TLATILCO MORELOS region - Mexico

1150 - 600 B.C.

Height: 42 cm - Width: 18.5 cm - Depth: 6.8 cm

Brown hollow terracotta with traces of brick red paint


This tall, solemn-looking woman is a rare and powerful work produced by the very ancient Tlatilco culture on the central altiplano. It takes its name from the archaeological site northwest of Mexico City on the shores of the now extinct Lake Texcoco, dating back to the beginning of the Preclassic era, nearly 3,000 years ago.

The stylization of its features brilliantly illustrates the originality of the pictorial language of this people of fishermen and farmers and the strength of its representations. Her engraved headdress, of exaggerated proportions, and her body paintings emphasize that she is a very important figure, of which there are few comparable examples known to date. In addition, its large size and sculptural quality attest to the technical mastery already achieved by the craftsmen of the time in the working and firing of clay.

In the twentieth century, Tlatilco, considered one of the major sites of the pre-classical period, yielded a large number of ceramic figurines, discovered in funerary contexts or in votive offerings from ancient shrines. These are characterized by their nudity and the emphasis on their femininity and sensuality (breast, waist, hips, thighs accused), which led to associate them with cults relating to fertility, in particular agrarian, and to consider them as the oldest symbolic testimonies of the Mother Goddess in Mesoamerica.

Within this abundant corpus, this effigy constitutes a remarkable piece. The raised head of her huge trapezoidal tiara is the center of attention. The set measures 21 cm (headdress included), the same size as the body, which gives us a total height of exactly 42 cm. An extraordinary dimension and a precision that is probably not the result of chance.

The headgear is incised in a zigzag pattern, the interior of which bears traces of red paint faded with time. It signals the belonging of this woman to the ruling class, which tends to confirm her broad and elusive forehead as well as her oblique and slender eyes, indicators of a ritual deformation, an ancestral custom in Mesoamerica, practiced on children from the birth.

According to specialists, this deformation would have been aimed at socially distinguishing the dignitaries at the same time as giving their head, seat of soul and conscience, the noble shape of a corn cob. Said plant, symbol of fertility and abundance, having divine value for men who largely owed their subsistence to it.

However, the treatment of the face is not only a reflection of this tradition. The artist seems to have voluntarily transfigured certain details, starting with the eyes, to better express the inner state in which his character finds himself. She is supposed to be in a trance, and the intensity of the moment lived, probably that of a religious ceremony, one of the many which punctuated the life of men and villages at this period in history.

The thin eyebrow arches are particularly high and long. Large spaces above the eyelids and at the bridge of the nose give this woman a somewhat surreal air. Her eyes are also unique: very wide and very narrow, they stretch from the nose to the temples, with a rim in strong relief and small round perforated pupils. In between is the long, straight nose. Under its discreet tip, the severe mouth is represented by an elongated oval and the lips are swollen. The lower face is angular with a fairly straight lower jaw and a prognathic chin. The long ears are deeply notched, probably the stylized representation of the pinna and lobe.

The cheeks in particular are decorated with red stripes painted on clay. These give the feeling that our woman is crying profusely, perhaps a way of symbolizing the beneficial and purifying rain, invoked during an agrarian rite to fertilize Mother Earth. Based on this hypothesis, this work could be the representation of a dignitary woman officiating at an event, whose memory should be kept, and buried near her as a funeral offering, or the effigy of a high idol, in the rank of divinity and venerated in sacred enclosures.