JALISCO - Mexico

100 B.C. - 250 A.D.

  • Height : 47.9 cm
  • Width : 29 cm
  • Depth : 15.1 cm

Beige hollow terracotta with a beige and red coating.

Anthropomorphic sculpture representing a standing ballplayer with a strong body.

The feet and toes are delicately modeled, the nails are engraved. The legs are massive and the knees are in relief. He is dressed with pants that cover his waist as well as the top of his thighs. The belly is rounded. The rib cage is underlined by a groove and the pectoral muscles are marked. The shoulders are wide and round. The arms are attired with bracelets. The right arm is placed along the body, with the open hand resting on the hip; the left one, lightly bent, is raised and holds in his hand a big ball, ready to throw it. The elongated head rests on a broad neck. The mouth with fine lips is open and shows the teeth. The aquiline nose is long and fine. The engraved, almond-shaped eyes are hemmed. The salient ears are adorned with circular rings. The forehead is high and the skull is surmounted by a tight helmet decorated with a central crest.

The sculpture we here present is remarkable with its quality of execution, its expressivity and its excellent condition. It is a beautiful example of the artistic productions from Jalisco. This culture develops in western Mexico, in the region matching the modern-day State of the same name, between 200 B.C. and 300 A.D. It belongs to the cultural group known as “West Coast”, of which the Colima and Nayarit cultures are also part. From an artistic point of view, the Jalisco culture mostly produced funerary ceramics representing figures in a both serene and expressive attitude, depicting sacred or daily-life scenes, captured in the very moment and showing a spontaneous quality.

Moreover, this figure is also very interesting from an iconographic point of view as it represents a ballplayer. This ritual game, played between two teams using a latex rubber ball, was probably born about thirty-five hundred years ago, and spread throughout all of Mesoamerica during the pre-Columbian era. Activity related to both secular and religious fields, the ballgame appears as a sport, but also as a ritual in its own. Accompanied by music, dancing and drama, the significance of the game is directly linked to the cosmic view and religious beliefs of the Mesoamerican peoples. In this way, the ball and its movement depict the path of heavenly bodies in the sky. The game itself is representing the cyclic battle between the sun and the moon, and thus between day and night, light and dark. Terrestrial world and underworld, as well as life and death, were symbolically enacted on the ballcourt. This celestial imagery was also related to fertility rituals: the ballgame assures that the sun would reemerge each morning from the underworld and so allows maintaining the regularity of the seasons, all in order to have a rich and various agricultural productivity.

ProvenanceAncient European collection since 1970.

PublicationFigures de pierre. L’art du Guerrero dans le Mexique précolombien, exh. cat., from October 2nd to November 21st, 1992, Musée-Galerie de la Seita, Paris, p. 203, n°208.

BibliographyDAY J. S., « The West Mexican Ballgame », in TOWNSEND R. F. (dir.), Ancient West Mexico. Art and Archaeology of the Unknown Past, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 1998, pp. 150-167.