DRAGON - HORNED LEZARD

COMALA - COLIMA - MEXICO

100 BC - 250 AD

Height: 14 cm - Width : 24.5 cm - Length : 32 cm

Brown hollow terracotta with orange-red slip with significant traces of manganese oxide

Provenance

Former collection Yvon Collet since 1967

Collection Galerie Mermoz since 2019

 

The beauty of this ceramic testifies as much to the talent of Colima artists as to its value in the eyes of the latter. We find here everything that designates it as a ritual and ceremonial object that belonged to an important member of the community.

Very lively, the subject is a masterpiece of naturalism. Sublimated by a magnificent glazed surface, reddish-brown colors with an orange accents is dazzling. This color, specific to Colima terracotta, is the result of clever oxidation firing (without smoke), which in this case has been perfectly mastered.

The artists of Colima, major producers of ceramics, have shown a certain taste for animals, which they have abundantly represented. If dogs and birds are frequent, horned lizards are much less so, which makes this piece a unique example, exceptional for its rarity and for its symbolism. The animal, which evokes a dragon, is indeed the bearer of a strong imagination, nourished by its many and astonishing abilities, the most impressive being that of spitting blood through its eyes in defense.

Placed as a funeral offering in a deep well tomb, typical of northwestern Mexico, this object was intended to accompany a deceased person, no doubt a dignitary, on his final journey to the afterlife and to prove to the spirits and to the ancestors his quality of leader. Note: The black traces of manganese oxide visible on the back of this piece are a consequence of its prolonged burial.

This medium-sized horned lizard is generally found in arid areas extending from southern Canada to Guatemala and has amazing abilities that have made it evidently a unique animal to the people inhabiting the northwest coast of Mexico.

With his clearly accomplished know-how, the artist has faithfully reproduced his characteristics: the two horns visible on his skull which earned him his name, his inquisitive round eyes whose engraved rim highlights the orbit, his triangular face, its pointed muzzle, its wide jaw and its large extensible mouth signified by a long-curved notch, not to mention its oval body and its pointed tail. His claws, however, were not shown.

With his clearly accomplished know-how, the artist has faithfully reproduced his characteristics: the two horns visible on his skull which earned him his name, his inquisitive round eyes whose engraved rim highlights the orbit, his triangular face, its pointed muzzle, its wide jaw and its large extensible mouth signified by a long-curved notch, not to mention its oval body and its pointed tail. His claws, however, were not shown.

The imposing size of this representation and its beautiful swelling shapes evoke the ability of the lizard to double in size when it feels threatened to scare away its opponents. The thorns that cover its body, and bristle when it swells, are here represented by round protuberances added by pelletizing over the entire surface of the back, legs, and tail. The position of the body and flexed legs is seen when the lizard is on alert.

In the stony deserts where the horned lizard lives, predators are numerous, which has prompted the latter to develop clever defenses. Extremely agile, it sinks very quickly into the sand. When hiding or bloating like a pufferfish is not enough to deter wolves, coyotes and other malicious species, he also has a formidable weapon, consisting of shooting jets of poisonous blood from the corners of his eyes to up to 1m in distance, aiming at the mouth of his opponents. It seems that the toxicity of his blood comes from his diet of poisonous ants.

It is easy to imagine the fascination that such an animal, capable of spitting blood through its eyes, could have exerted on the ancient Mexicans. This power, undoubtedly perceived as supernatural, explains the fact that it was chosen as the subject by the artist. In Mesoamerica, species endowed with "extraordinary" faculties were particularly important, as intermediaries between men and the higher invisible powers. By using them as models, the artists undoubtedly thought to transmit their magic to their works and thus to offer to the deceased, an active and eternal protection.

Note: like most Colima vases, this work has a wide tubular bottleneck, modeled by the ceramist on the left side in an oblique position. The function of this opening was to allow air to escape during firing to prevent the clay from breaking.