The mask flange iconographic complex: the art, ritual, and history of a Maya sacred image
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This dissertation examines the symbolism, ritual use, and formal development of the Mask Flange Iconographic Complex (MFIC), one of the most important and ubiquitous iconic forms for the presentation of Maya deities from the Late Preclassic to post-Classic periods. The MFIC is characterized by a central mask, face, or figure surmounted by an ornate headdress that rests on a personification of the earth. Ornamented symmetrical side flanges flank this central composition. This dissertation argues that the cosmological narrative, preserved in Classic period inscriptions and imagery, informed the imagery of the MFIC and that this motif, as part of sculptural programs, mapped creation mythology to the built environment. It is demonstrated that the MFIC was central to the ix manifestation of the Maya’s conception of world order. Specifically, it is suggested that more than depicting a layered conception of the cosmos common to many cultures of the Americas, the patterns presented by the MFIC are best understood vis-à-vis the life cycle of maize which was and still is a major structuring metaphor in Maya thought. With a greater insight into the development and ritual use of the MFIC, a more subtle understanding is gained, not just of the symbol system of the ancient Maya, but also of the nature of the interaction between art and ritual. This dissertation, therefore, engages such larger theoretical questions as representation’s role in ritual, the material embodiment of the divine, and the nature of Classic period Maya religious thought.