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Maya art history
Following the nineteenth and early-twentieth century publications on Maya art and archaeology by Stephens, Catherwood, Maudslay, Maler and Charnay that for the first time made available reliable drawings and photographs of major Classic Maya monuments, the 1913 publication of Herbert Spinden´s 'A Study of Maya Art' laid the foundation for all later developments of Maya art history. The book gives an analytical treatment of themes and motifs, particularly the ubiquitous serpent and dragon motifs, and a review of the ´material arts´, such as the composition of temple facades, roof combs and mask panels. Spinden's chronological treatment of Maya art was later (1950) refined by the motif analysis of the architect and specialist in archaeological drawing, Tatiana Proskouriakoff, in her book 'A Study of Classic Maya Sculpture'. George Kubler's 1969 inventory of Maya iconography, containing a site-by-site treatment of 'commemorative' images and a topical treatment of ritual and mythical images (such as the 'triadic sign'), was already overshadowed by new developments in the study of Classic Maya history, writing, and iconography under the impetus of the work of Proskouriakoff and Linda Schele, a professor of art. Maya art history was further spurred by the enormous increase in sculptural and ceramic imagery, due to extensive archaeological excavations, as well as to organized looting on an unprecedented scale. On from 1973, M.D. Coe published a series of books offering pictures and interpretations of unknown Maya vases, while promoting the Popol Vuh Twin myth as an explanatory model; in 1981, Robicsek and Hales came with an inventory of Maya vases painted in codex style,thereby revealing a hitherto unknown spiritual world. Important issues in Schele's iconographic work were elaborated by Karl Taube. New approaches to Maya art include studies of ancient Maya ceramic workshops, the representation of bodily experience and the senses in Maya art, and of hieroglyphs considered as art motifs. A good impression of recent Mexican and North American art historical scholarship can be gathered from the exhibition catalogue 'Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya'.
Mural paintingAlthough, due to the humid climate of Central America, relatively few Mayan paintings have survived to the present day integrally, important remnants are found in nearly all major court residences. This is especially the case in substructures, hidden under later architectural additions. Mural paintings may show more or less repetitive motifs, such as the subtly varied flower symbols on walls of House E of the Palenque Palace; scenes of daily life, as in one of the buildings surrounding the central square of Calakmul; or ritual scenes involving deities, as in the Post-Classic temple murals of Yucatán's and Belize's east coast (Tancah,Tulum, Santa Rita).
They may also evince a more narrative character, usually with hieroglyphic captions present. The colourful Bonampak murals, for example, dating from 790 AD, show spectacular scenes of nobility, battle and sacrifice, as well as a group of ritual impersonators in the midst of a file of musicians. At San Bartolo, murals dating from 100 BC relate to the myth of the Maya maize god and the hero twin Hunahpu, and depict an inthronization; antedating the Classic Period by several centuries, the style is already fully developed, with colours being subtle and muted as compared to those of Bonampak or Calakmul. Outside the Mayan area, in a ward of East-Central Mexican Cacaxtla, a savage battle scene as well as two figures of Mayan lords standing on serpents have been found, all painted in a hybrid Classical Mayan style.
Wall painting also occurs on vault capstones, in tombs (e.g., Río Azul), and in caves (e.g., Naj Tunich), usually executed in black on a whitened surface, at times with the additional use of red paint. Yucatec vault capstones often show a depiction of the enthroned lightning deity (e.g., Ek' Balam).
A bright turquoise blue colour - 'Maya Blue' - has survived through the centuries due to its unique chemical characteristics; this color is present in Bonampak,Cacaxtla, Jaina, El Tajín, and even in some Colonial Convents. The use of Maya Blue survived until the 16th century, when the technique was lost.
and now for a picture of their art.