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Picture Worlds: Storytelling on Greek, Moche, and Maya Pottery

Edited by David Saunders and Megan E. O’Neil

This abundantly illustrated volume is the first to explore the painted pottery of the ancient Greek, Moche, and Maya cultures side by side.

Satyrs and sphinxes, violent legumes, and a dancing maize deity figure in the stories painted on the pottery produced by the ancient Greek, Moche, and Maya cultures, respectively. Picture Worlds is the first book to examine the elaborately decorated terracotta vessels of these three distinct civilizations. Although the cultures were separated by space and time, they all employed pottery as a way to tell stories, explain the world, and illustrate core myths and beliefs. Each of these painted pots is a picture world. But why did these communities reach for pottery as a primary method of visual communication? How were the vessels produced and used? In this book, experts offer introductions to the civilizations, exploring these foundational questions and examining the painted imagery. Readers will be rewarded with a better understanding of each of these ancient societies, fascinating insights into their cultural commonalities and differences, and fresh perspectives on image making and storytelling, practices that remain vibrant to this day.

This volume is published to accompany an exhibition on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa from April 10 to July 29, 2024, and at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University from September 14 to December 15, 2024.
David Saunders is associate curator of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Megan E. O’Neil is assistant professor of art history at Emory University.

Picture Worlds is a brilliantly innovative project, bringing together three diverse ceramic traditions—Greek, Moche, and Maya—that shared a love for dynamic scenes of gods, heroes, and monsters. While each pot is fascinating in its own right, the ceramics gain immeasurably from being juxtaposed and analyzed in terms of form, composition, and narrative strategies.”
—Alan Shapiro, W. H. Collins Vickers Professor of Archaeology, Emeritus, Johns Hopkins University

“In ­Picture Worlds, Saunders and O’Neil have assembled leading scholarly voices on ancient Greek, Moche, and Maya painted pottery to explore the shared human practice of infusing eating and drinking vessels with sacred histories through elaborate image-making traditions. In presenting deep dives into these disparate case studies together for the first time, they raise larger questions about the role of communities of artistic practice in creating supernatural beings and congealing mythological narratives on tangible things, thus bolstering human rulers’ claims to divinity as they celebrated in life or as they entered the afterlife.”
—James Doyle, Director of the Matson Museum of Anthropology at Penn State, and co-editor of Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Maya Art

208 pages
9 x 10 inches
121 color and 27 b/w illustrations, 3 maps
ISBN 978-1-60606-905-9

Getty Publications
Imprint: J. Paul Getty Museum