100 B.C. - 250 A.D.

  • Height: 42 cm
  • Width: 22.5 cm
  • Length: 26.8 cm

Brown terracotta with brown-red coating, and significant traces of manganese oxide.

Anthropomorphic sculpture representing a seated figure, in a serene attitude.

The figure is sitting on the ground and strongly leaning forward. The legs are folded: the feet, placed on the floor, are joining to form a single foot, whereas the knees are brought in towards the chest. The thighs are wide and the buttocks are delicately modelled. The excessively elongated trunk is flattened. The shoulders are small and the arms are long and thin. These are bent and form an almost right angle with the arched top part of the arms; they are placed one above the other and rest on the knees. The neck is broad and supports a beautiful, angular, hexagonal-shaped head. The chin is triangular; the small and slightly hemmed mouth is open; the nose is long and barely hooked with its wings in relief; the eyes are a bit slanting; the ears are salient and the forehead is rounded. The head is surmounted by a tight headdress, entirely ribbed to suggest the hair, with a small strip hanging over the forehead and a tip raised on the top of the head, just like a tuft of hair.

The figure is highlighted with great care: the whole body is covered with a brown-red coating, whereas the calves are decorated with a beige band and black borders.  The crotch is covered by a loincloth evoked by a triangle of beige paint. The top of each of the arms is attired with five bracelets in relief: three beige ones, framed on each side by a black one. The neck is on its side ornamented with numerous necklaces suggested by black lines, falling down in the back while forming triangles. The head is also richly attired: the nose presents a nasal ornament (known as nariguera) made up of six loops and the ears are each decorated with six similar circular rings. Last but not least, the cheeks are embellished by black-colored vertical lines, going from underneath the eyes, down to the jaw.

This Chinesco figure is a true masterpiece and appears as a sublimation of that kind of sculptures. The harmony of shapes and proportions combines with the serene attitude of the figure to give it a great and powerful expression. The very composition of the sculpture is striking as it is built on a geometric structure: the arms compose a rectangle with rounded sides, which rests on an inverted triangle formed by the legs, through which one can see another small triangle, that of the loincloth. Finally, the quality of execution and the great condition of the piece further enhance its beauty and make it a unique example of the Chinesco figures.

The term Chinesco refers to a style connected to the Nayarit culture. This one develops in the region matching the modern-day State of the same name, along the Pacific coast of Mexico, between 300 B.C. and 500 A.D. The Chinesco pottery is more particularly associated with a specific area, in the south-west of Nayarit, around the villages of Las Cebollas and Santiago Compostella. Its name, which means “Chinese” in Spanish, was first used by dealers who after discovering those figures for the first time saw in them some – fortuitous – similarities with features peculiar to the Chinese art. From a stylistic point of view, the Chinesco figures are characterized by a very elongated trunk, long and thin limbs and a triangular or rectangular face with fine and slender eyes. They also express great strength and serenity and the words of Michael Kan, an eminent curator, perfectly reflect this idea: “their calm, subtle exteriors suggest rather than demonstrate emotion”. (KAN, p. 21).

A similar figure is published in the book written by Gérald Berjonneau and Jean-Louis Sonnery, Chefs-d’œuvre inédits de l’Art Précolombien, on page 171, n°239.


-Ancient European collection since 1968.

Bibliographic references:

-M. KAN, “The Pre-Columbian Art of West Mexico: Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima”, in Sculpture of Ancient West Mexico: Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima. A Catalogue of the Proctor Stafford Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1989, pp. 13-27.

-From Coast to Coast. Pre-Columbian Sculptures from Mesoamerica, exh. cat., from June 7th to October 18th, 1992, Ballhaus am Schloß Wilhelmshöhe, Staatliche Museen, Kassel, p. 70.

-G. BERJONNEAU, J.-L. SONNERY, Chefs-d’œuvre inédits de l’Art Précolombien, Editions Arts 135, Boulogne, 1985, p. 171.