Ancient Mayan Art

Ancient mayan art evolved during the pre-classical period but flourished in the Classical period. Mayan art had survived until the 16th century. The Olmecs, Toltecs and Teotihuacan influenced Mayan art. Painting and description was drawn on paper. Other art form like carving was made on wood, stone and clay. Things like pottery, ceramics and some buildings with murals have survived. The artists used Maya Blue to paint their work. The Mayan artists marked their work by writing their name.

Ancient Mayan Art

Mayan Structures

Structures were built using limestone, cement and plaster and the one's covered with lime stucco were trademark of Mayan architecture. Houses, temples, courtyards and stepped pyramids are great examples of Mayan architectural design. At the top of some pyramids, temples were placed to honor a deity. Mayans used corbel arch, a type of false arch.

Ancient Mayan Structure

The arch was developed by stepping each block from the other side closer to the center and was capped at the peak. New structures were placed on top of a platform sub-structure whose height varied from 1 meter to 45 meters. Steep stone steps were placed on one side of the platform. Platforms were made of a cut and stucco stone and filled with gravel.

Sculpture Design

Sculptures were made using stone, wood, jade and stucco. Mayans carved sculptures known as stela, large stone slabs filled with carvings. Rudimentary stone tools were used by for carving. Stelae contained hieroglyphic texts. Wood sculptures were commonly carved. Stucco sculptures were used decorate the front wall of various buildings and were normally painted. Mayans made jade sculptures and jade was used in several carvings.

Ancient Mayan Art

The largest sculpture is Stela E at Quiriguá measuring 10.5meters. Symbols like Chac Mool, eagle with a heart in its claws, flowers and rattlesnake were used in sculptures.


Mayan painting was on ceramics, buildings and caves. Colors were obtained from dyes or minerals. In some temple murals, paint was mixed with Mica to make it glow in the sun. Paintings often were narrative drawing or mythological scenes. Bonampak temples have murals depicting scenes of battle, sacrifice and nobility.

Ancient Mayan Painting

The murals at San Bartolo portray the mythological Maize god. Maya Blue was also used to paint the murals. Wall painting in the caves also exhibit Mayan skills.

Art of Writing

It was called as hieroglyphs and was a mixture of logograms and phonetic symbols. The phonetic symbols represented words that were single syllables or ended with a vowel. Mayan writing system included 'echo vowel' in which the vowel of the earlier syllable was repeated. In Mayan writing system each glyph symbolized a word, syllable or both. The system is also known was logographic or logosyllabic writing system.

Ancient Mayan Art

There were more than 1000 glyphs in the system. In each block, the glyphs were placed from top to bottom and left to right. In the writing system, the blocks related to a noun or verb phrase. Processed tree bark, monuments, lintels, ceramic pottery and stelae were used to write texts.

Ceramics & Pottery

Clay was the main ingredient in pottery making. Calcite and volcanic ash were mixed with clay to increase durability. Pots were used as bowls, kitchen utensils and cups. Ceramic was used as funerary ware and pictures of rituals, death and ballgames were painted on them. Pots were hand-made with the help of clay coils. It was kept in the sun for drying and hardening. Paint brushes were made from animal hair.

Potters decorated the pots with scenes of court life, figures of animals and people. Scenes of court life were painted with slip paint, a combination of finely ground pigment, water and clay. Black, yellow, brown, red, orange, Maya Blue were used for painting. Mayan painters and sculptors signed their work. Ceramic work included flasks, incense burners and burial urns.

More info on- Mayan Architecture, Sculptures

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