1150 - 600 B.C.

Height: 30.3 cm - Width: 19.5 cm - Depth: 10 cm

Brown hollow terracotta, covered with a brick red slip, with traces of manganese oxide


This woman with a singular physique is a very fine example of the art of Tlatilco, a Mecca of creation in the Preclassic period, located on the shores of Lake Texcoco, which has now disappeared, near what is now Mexico City. The reputation of this very ancient archaeological site comes from the tombs that were found there in the 20th century, containing offerings remarkable for their nature and their abundance, and in particular a large number of figurines characterized by their nudity and voluptuousness.

Our work is among the most beautiful achievements that we know, from the point of view of the brilliance of its color, its large size, the harmonious rhythm of its curves and its superb glazed surface, polished with a care that only something of great value deserved.

Neither completely realistic, nor completely abstract, built with unequal or even incongruous proportions, while being perfectly balanced, it wonderfully expresses the originality of the pictorial language of village societies in ancient Mexico from the pre-classical period, which will mark millennia later the avant-garde of Western sculptors and painters of the post-war period.

Leaning on her buttocks and her legs wide open, this woman stands straight, with her arms outstretched horizontally, acting as a pendulum. Her very elongated head, with the back of the skull flattened, as well as its slanted eyes are the result of a ritual deformation of the straight tabular type.

This custom, with variations, has always been practiced in Mesoamerica and seems to concern dignitaries, who thereby manifested their difference and their noble status. Symbolically, this would mean giving special importance to the head, seat of the soul, and possibly the shape of an ear of corn, associated with the concepts of fertility and abundance.

Rectangular in shape, the face is structured by the protruding lines of the eyebrow arches plunging between the two slender eyes, with perforated pupils and swollen eyelids. In the continuation of its marked arches, the nose, small and turned up, we can see the narrow and pierced nostrils with a rather haughty air.

The mouth, represented by a horizontal slit, and the thin and swollen lips, also confer a particular pout on this woman whose several characteristics indicate that she is of high rank. The ears first, which have discs at the level of the lobes, then the cranial deformation, and finally the raised bands visible on and behind the head, representing an elaborate tonsure or cuff. Each of these details correspond to the iconography of the elites in Mesoamerica and confirm the importance of this effigy.

As far as the body is concerned, we find here the shapes specific to the Tlatilco figures, with this distance from reality which makes them deeply original. The artist has not depicted the shoulders, the shortened arms start directly from the neck to extend horizontally below the bust, forming a sort of star. Particularly short, they are summarized in two conical appendages at the end of which we can see the schematic hands which have four fingers each.

These features are unlikely to reflect deformities, as we can confirm. They are more likely linked to stylistic conventions, perhaps having a symbolic connotation. Unless it is a question of a ceramist's bias for the sake of the general balance of his work or even the result of a technical constraint encountered by the latter.

The rest of the body adopts the beautiful violin silhouette which is associated to the qualifier of Venus callipyge for the Tlatilco figures. The high and thin waist thus precedes flared hips, leading to plump and splayed legs, in a sensual and voluptuous nudity which we think could exalt the feminine and maternal part of this character, probably playing an active role in cults. and rites relating to fertility.

In this regard, the position in which this woman is depicted is interpreted by some to be that of childbirth, unless she is represented participating in a ceremony and addressing her prayers to the higher powers in the hope that they will show leniency.

Note: The plump belly has a large vent hole as a navel, allowing the evacuation of water vapor during the firing of the ceramic, preventing the clay from bursting into pieces under the effect pressure. Another larger hole is also located under the buttocks.

Buried in the graves, traditionally located in the foundations of houses, so that the deceased continue to participate in the life of the families of the village, the presence of these female figures in what remains of the tombs of Tlatilco would link the cults from fertility to the cult of ancestors, supposed to intercede with the spirits and gods so that they lavish food and assistance on the living.

Among all the works provided to us by this major archaeological site, our piece stands out for its very beautiful unusual size and its perfectly accomplished sculptural quality.