In an auction of Pre-Columbian Maya art sold in in France by the auction house Drouot on Monday March 21, a large Maya carving was sold. The statue, a polychrome stucco figure, was supposedly from the Rio Bec area of Mexico and dated to around 550 CE. The five foot tall artifact was sold for $4.2 million dollars, making it the most expensive piece of Mayan art ever sold. Today Mexican antiquities experts from the National Institute of Anthropology and History have declared that it is a fake.
The Mexican authorities point to the fact that the statue is different stylistically from anything else previously found in that area or of that period. A French expert in Pre-Columbian Mayan art, Jacques Blazy, who works for the auction house completely disagrees. He is quoted as saying, “Mexico’s accusations are totally ridiculous. They are completely baseless. It is a well-known artifact that has been thoroughly analyzed.”
I am not a trained expert in Pre-Columbian or Mayan art, but I have seen a lot of it in person and have read a considerable amount about it. When I first saw the photo of the statue I did not recognize it as Mayan at all. It’s hard to know who is right, the French expert or the Mexican ones. Both have good reason to stick to their opinion.
Mexico’s archaeological sites are under constant threat from looters. When a piece of Pre-Columbian art from Mexico sells for an astronomical amount of money, the threat gets even greater. It would be wise for the Mexican authorities to cast doubt on the credibility of most any sale of Mexico’s national treasures. If the piece is real, it should be in a museum and not in the living room of an ultra wealthy private collector.
The French expert who verified the authenticity of the statue, along with other artifacts sold at the auction, needs to protect his and the auction house of Drouot’s reputation. Not to mention trying to stop the loss of over $4.2 million dollars if the sale was to be invalidated due to fakery.
I have not yet found any information on who excavated the allegedly Mayan statue or when. If there was some credible provenance, other than the fact people have believed it to be real for years, then the question could be easily solved. After looking over pages of google results for Mayan statues and Mayan figurines, I haven’t found anything that looks like it. I believe the folks from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History are being absolutely truthful and are correct.
What do you think?
Update; One of my readers made a comment suggesting the statue may be the work of Brigido Lara. Lara’s story of going from a forger to a museum expert is very interesting. Here is a link to one of the best articles I could find on-line about him in Cabinet Magazine.