OLMEC – Las Bocas – PUEBLA – Mexico
900 – 600 B.C.
Height : 7.1 cm - Width : 16.0 cm - Depth : 7.8 cm
Massive beige brown terracotta with a thin slip of kaolin and traces of cinnabar.
This magnificent sculpture, representing a reclining figure, is one of the most beautiful pre-classical figurines of Olmec style, typical of the Las Bocas site, located on the central plateau. The delicacy of his features, the accuracy of his proportions, the balance of his posture, the intense serenity that emanates from his face, and his perfect finish, make it a masterpiece, which diffuses in us an immediate emotion.
The treatment is refined, without external adornments or clothes. The artist sought to convey, with a spiritual intention, a universal ideal. A socio-aesthetic ideal is visible through the care given to the head and face that corresponds to Olmec esthetic conventions. He also meant to convey a spiritual quality perceptible through the particular meditative aura of this character.
The inner state that emerges from this elegant sculpture testifies to the talent of the ceramist who was able to give life to the piece. Beyond that, it expresses that "awareness of oneself" and of the surrounding world, which characterizes that period of ancient history during which people began to be sedentary, civilized and to question the sky to find answers to the great mysteries of life. In other words, this character corresponds to the birth of a religious system, of which it is a very beautiful manifestation.
If the body is treated minimally, with only details, marks on the chest, groin, elbows, and grooves in the feet and hands, the head of the character are more precise. It presents the characteristics dear to Olmec: the elongated skull, the slanted eyes and the arched mouth.
The elongated skull is the result of a ritual deformation process, an old and common practice in Central and South America. In these ancient societies, the body metaphorically represented the cosmos and the head corresponded to the higher world. Manipulation of the occiput, like any form of body adornment, held therefore primordial symbolic function.
Foremost, it was a way of marking, on the body, the belonging to a social group. Some people argue that the deformation gave the skull a noble form evoking the ear of corn, a sacred plant and vital for these populations.
Regarding the face, the inclined eyes, represented here by two fine incisions, the nose strong and flattened, and the mouth with the drooping commissures, are also markers of importance. They refer to the figure of the jaguar, solar symbol, power and prestige, at the origin of the first Mesoamerican deities.
Olmec images, whether carved, engraved or painted, weighing several tons or a few grams, all speak of power, cosmology and religion. The symbolic bestiary includes serpents, crocodiles and birds, but it is to the big cat, especially the jaguar, that the greatest place is given in the iconography. His attributes, more or less stylized, are found everywhere in Olmec art, which has never ceased to explore the relation of man to animal and vice versa.
Our sculpture is a subtle and particularly refined example of the assimilation of feline traits by a human figure. The site of Las Bocas, on the central highlands, has delivered a number of figures of this type, which have made its reputation. They are male, generally asexual, in different attitudes, covered with a polished white-cream slip.