Chakalte’, Relief with Enthroned Ruler

Chakalte’, Relief with Enthroned Ruler (lintel from La Pasadita, Guatemala), late 8th century (Classic Maya), limestone and paint, 88.9 x 87.6 x 7 cm (1979.206.1047) (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Key terms and concepts:

  • Classic Maya
  • ruler portrait
  • hieroglyphic text
  • Yaxchilán and Shield Jaguar IV, and the site of La Pasadita
  • quetzal feathers and jadeite
  • Chakalte’ (sculptor)
  • tribute

Additional resources:

This work at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

James Doyle, “Sacrifice, Fealty, and a Sculptor’s Signature on a Maya Relief”

James Doyle, “Maya Sculpture” on The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

[flickr_tags user_id=”82032880@N00″ tags=”metchakalte,”]

More Smarthistory images…

[0:00] [music]

Dr. Beth Harris: [0:04] We’re here in the Maya Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, looking at a lintel of carved stone that would have been the horizontal piece over a doorway.

Dr. James Doyle: [0:15] The sculptor who carved this actually carved the underside of the lintel to be seen as you enter the temple or palace; you would have to look up. The sculpture is carved in such low relief that you probably would have had to use torchlight in order to make the figures appear.

Dr. Harris: [0:35] This was not a building that anyone could have walked through.

Dr. Doyle: [0:39] No, the Maya palaces are very restricted in access by different patios and courtyards and staircases, so this would have been seen by a very important group of individuals.

Dr. Harris: [0:50] It features a very important royal figure.

Dr. Doyle: [0:53] In the hieroglyphs above his head, he’s named as Chel Te’ Chan K’inich, otherwise known as Shield Jaguar IV. The penultimate and last important ruler of a kingdom at Yaxchilan.

Dr. Harris: [1:04] Here we are during the Classic Period, and it’s coming to a close.

Dr. Doyle: [1:09] Shield Jaguar IV was the last ruler to erect a lot of monuments in the area around Yaxchilan.

Dr. Harris: [1:15] Here he is receiving important tribute from the leader of a subservient city-state.

Dr. Doyle: [1:21] This lintel probably comes from a site we know as La Pasadita, which is across the river from Yaxchilan in modern-day Guatemala. The central figure handing gifts to the king is known as Tiloom, an important subsidiary lord in the Yaxchilan kingdom.

Dr. Harris: [1:37] In his left hand, he is offering a fabulous headdress decorated with quetzal feathers, with jade, this very precious stone. In his right hand, likely some food or some incense.

Dr. Doyle: [1:48] These are typical gifts in scenes of tribute from these local lords to their overlords.

Dr. Harris: [1:54] It looks to me as though Tiloom is almost as well-dressed as the king of Yaxchilan.

Dr. Doyle: [2:00] He’s very important. That’s made clear by the artist in his central position in the composition, but also in his posture and size. He almost appears to be a little bit larger than the ruler himself.

Dr. Harris: [2:14] He’s wearing a jade necklace with this pectoral decorated with a head. He’s got on a fabulous headdress himself, [and] a kilt.

Dr. Doyle: [2:23] The garment that he’s wearing is very high-quality. You see this in Yaxchilan courts. The most important people wore this type of brocaded woven garment.

Dr. Harris: [2:32] There’s another figure behind him. We’re not quite sure who this figure is.

Dr. Doyle: [2:37] He’s not named in the hieroglyphic text, but he holds a fan composed of quetzal feathers. So he’s also part of this tribute event.

Dr. Harris: [2:45] This is such an unusual relief because so much of the pigment survives, giving us a good idea of how brightly painted these relief sculptures were.

Dr. Doyle: [2:53] The red-orange pigment is iron-based, and the blue pigment is composed of indigo dye mixed with minerals.

Dr. Harris: [3:01] That bluish-green was an important color, just like jade was an important stone for the Maya.

Dr. Doyle: [3:06] Blue-green was associated with jade, but also with water and with agricultural fertility.

Dr. Harris: [3:12] So the stuff of life.

Dr. Doyle: [3:13] The stuff of life.

Dr. Harris: [3:14] I’m struck by how naturalistically Shield Jaguar IV is represented. He’s seated in a cross-legged position, he leans forward. It seems almost as if we can hear him speaking.

Dr. Doyle: [3:26] He’s leaning forward. He’s probably addressing or thanking the party in front of him for the gifts that they’re bringing.

Dr. Harris: [3:32] Below his throne, we see a basket with some seeded fruit, also likely part of the offering.

Dr. Doyle: [3:38] We often see Maya lords surrounding themselves with tribute goods that often included foods like fruit or beans, even alcoholic beverages.

Dr. Harris: [3:48] There’s something else that makes this particular carving so special, and that’s that we know the name of the artist.

Dr. Doyle: [3:54] The only culture in the ancient Americas in which artists signed their works was the classic Maya. This particular lintel was signed by its sculptor. His name was Chakalte’, and he made at least three or four monuments during the reigns of Bird Jaguar IV and Shield Jaguar IV at Yaxchilan.

Dr. Harris: [4:13] We get a sense of how important artists were at the Maya court.

Dr. Doyle: [4:17] Absolutely, and the hypothesis would be that Shield Jaguar sent Chakalte’ across the river to La Pasadita to have Tiloom project himself onto the lintel of a building they were constructing.

Dr. Harris: [4:30] Let’s talk for one moment about Shield Jaguar IV. He’s wearing this beaded necklace, but also a nose ornament.

Dr. Doyle: [4:37] The large necklace that he’s wearing is known as a bar pectoral, which is a horizontal, long tubular bead made of jade. The nose ring is also probably a jade tube that is attached to the septum of the king.

Dr. Harris: [4:50] We also see that he’s wearing bracelets. I mean, he’s heavily adorned.

Dr. Doyle: [4:54] He is heavily adorned in jade and quetzal feathers, which all share this blue-green precious color. But a detail that is unusual to this lintel is that the throne itself is decorated with a lot of what look to be representations of jade beads and pendants.

[5:11] [music]

Cite this page as: Dr. James Doyle and Dr. Steven Zucker, "Chakalte’, Relief with Enthroned Ruler," in Smarthistory, February 7, 2017, accessed July 18, 2024,