Censer stand

Late Classic Period

Object Place: Tabasco or Chiapas, Mexico


Overall: 40.6 x 87.6 x 30.5 cm (16 x 34 1/2 x 12 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Earthenware; traces of stucco with a dark red and "Maya Blue" paint

On View

Ancient Central America Gallery (Gallery LG32)





Incense burner stand portraying a human figure with attributes of the so-called jaguar god of the underworld, which symbolizes the underworld sun. The tubular protrusions of his headdress are broken, and serpents emerge from behind his waist and fall to each side of his legs, the serpents’ open mouths revealing their long fangs. The figure stands on a turtle shell from which emerges God N, a primary god of the underworld who also was one of the gods of Creation. Two profile beings with zoomorphic heads flank the main figure, each holding a long staff, and likely portraying bacabs, the supernatural beings who stand at the four corners of the cosmos and support the sky. Considered together, the imagery of this incense burner stand portrays the physical structure of the underworld.

The tall cylinder at the back of the sculpture originally supported a plate or low-walled dish filled with burning coals onto which incense would have been placed. The sculpture likely adorned the front of a ceremonial building.

Modeled incense-burner stands adorned the stairways and entrances of Maya temples. This support portrays the Maya universe; the main figure symbolizes the sun of the Underworld who stands on a turtle, embodying the earth. The profile figures recall “bacabs,” supernaturals who support the sky. A dish holding burning coals and incense would be placed atop the stand.


Between 1946 and 1955, sold by Clay Lockett (b. 1906 - d. 1984) Tuscon, AZ, to Don Louis Percival (b. 1908 - d. 1979), Montecito, CA; 1975, sold by Don Louis Percival to Michael Haskell, Montecito, CA; 1998, sold by Michael Haskell to Ancient Art of the New World, Inc., New York; 1999, sold by Ancient Art of the New World, Inc., to a private collection; 2007, gift of the private collection to the MFA. (Accession Date: December 12, 2007)

Credit Line

Gift in memory of Timothy and Katherine Sullivan