CEREMONIAL HACHA REPRESENTING TWO SACRED RATTLESNAKES

VERACRUZ – Mexico

600 - 900 AD.

Height : 33.2 cm – Width : 26.8 cm - Depth : 3 cm

Grey-beige trachyte

Provenance

Former Everett Rassiga, New York, since 1969

Former Olman Gutierrez, Miami, since 1986

Collection Galerie Mermoz since 2021

 

This exceptional sculpture is the work of an artist from Veracruz. It is a ceremonial hacha like those used in ball game tournaments, a ritual sport practiced throughout Mesoamerica, with considerable political, social and religious implications.

 

The immense value of this work is measured by its sculptural quality, which testifies to a remarkable decorative care served by a great technical mastery, but also by the symbolic importance of the two entwined rattlesnakes, sacred animals, occupying a place of primary importance in the cosmogony and beliefs of the peoples of Mesoamerica.The presence - in double - of the one that the Aztecs designated as the "Prince of Snakes" is a strong indicator of the immense power that was placed in this work and of which its owner was the guardian. Extremely fast and agile, at ease in all environments and feared because of its deadly venom, the rattlesnake presented all the qualities useful to a dignitary to excel in a ball game tournament.

Moreover, the study of numerous works and mythical stories involving the snake have brought to light its close link with rain and blood, which naturally brings us back to the sacrifices that concluded the jousts, whose ultimate objective was to feed the gods so that they in turn would feed mankind by bringing them rain. All of this makes the rattlesnake an extremely powerful religious symbol related to life and death, which obviously gives our work a highly sacred value, a work that introduces us to the depth of thought of Mesoamerican civilizations as a whole.

On the visual level, the sculptor has summoned two rattlesnakes, which seem to be executing a dance, evoking the combat dance performed by rattlesnakes to demonstrate their superiority over a rival. This strange ritual takes place during the breeding season, when the males compete with each other in a show of strength. A virile theme that resonates with the ball game.

The snake at the bottom of this sculpture has its head resting on the ground, turned towards the back of the work, which has an angular indentation, called a tenon, used to position this hacha on a support, most probably a ceremonial yoke. We find here some of the iconographic characteristics of the snake in Mesoamerican art: an elongated profile with a nose forming a spiral Greek, a round eye lodged under a strong arch of the eyebrows ending in a volute and a deep mouth, capable of enlarging inordinately to swallow prey of considerable size. The forked tongue is not shown in this case but, we can guess the impressive fangs, located between the upper and the lower jaw, at the level of the opening of the mouth.

A long, supple and robust body extends the head, which is reminiscent of a dragon. This body, punctuated by five concentric circles linked by two parallel engraved lines, performs a complex undulating movement, as only snakes can do. It is placed on the ground, then rises vertically, then descends towards the head, forming a wave, and finally, at the level of the head, the tail is strongly raised. A tail that leaves no doubt as to the fact that we are in the presence of a rattlesnake because it is composed of six interlocking rings forming the caudal noisemaker with which the animal manifests itself, thus avoiding being crushed by larger predators. This noisemaker is also called cascabelle, from the Spanish cascabel which means bell.