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Patrick Hajovsky

Realistic portraiture was never a dominant concern of Pre-Columbian artists or patrons, who more often sought to convey essential qualities and metaphysical states of being rather than physical appearances. In Mesoamerica as early as 1200 BCE, the Olmec pushed portraiture to notable heights with colossal stone heads, the greatest accumulation occurring at San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan. Yet, overall, Olmec sculptures exhibit a range of representational strategies from realism to abstraction. Among the Maya, portraiture makes its starkest emergence in the 7th century at Palenque under Pakal the Great (see fig.). By and large, however, Maya stelae, relief panels, and jade masks do not favor physiognomic realism over idealism, especially surrounding ideas of divine kingship. In exchange, the actual physical appearance of kings was manipulated to fit ideals that are paralleled in sculpture, such as in the case of the stucco portrait of Pakal, who dons a false nose and an upward hairstyle to resemble a maize cob. In narrative relief sculptures depicting Maya men and women, physiognomic features may also have been associated with blood lineage, thus making their rendition important for establishing rule through phenotype....