Pre-Columbian, Costa Rica, Guanacaste-Nicoya Peninsula, ca. 600 to 1100 CE. A magnificent hand-built terracotta, two-piece incensario with a zoomorphic effigy finial perched upon the vented lid, a spherical body comprised of two hemispheric forms, the lower on a footed base. Perforations on lid and crocodile/alligator chimney would have allowed smoke to flow freely. Coiled/hand built, modeled, and perforated, the workmanship that went into creating this piece is quite impressive. Size: 15.875" W x 20.125" H (40.3 cm x 51.1 cm)
The attention to detail truly brings this piece to life - those bulging eyes, flaring nostrils, and that meticulously delineated skin replete with pierced geometric openwork and an appliquéd bumpy texture of sharp nodes. In addition, bands of sharp nodes adorn the rims of lid and lower vessel; even more nodes are arranged in a turtle-like design on the lid just beneath the crocodilian creature whose scaly back and tail are decorated with these nodes as well.
The Crocidilia order, comprised of crocodiles, smaller alligators, and yet smaller caymans (all treated similarly in Pre-Columbian mythology) was highly symbolic to the ancients of the Americas. The crocodile being the oldest (approximately 55 million years old) was understood as a crocodilian earth monster and is oftentimes shown giving rise to what was known as the World Tree. Partial to a watery habitat, the crocodile is also a metaphor for fertility.
An incensario chimney quite similar to the one on this piece is in the collection of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (catalog number 23/6310; formerly part of the Arthur Sackler collection) showing in the "Animals" section of the "Window on Collections" exhibit on the 4th floor. See http://nmai.si.edu/searchcollections/item.aspx?irn=251299. How fortunate that our example includes a complete incensario!
Provenance: Ex-E. Vaught Collection, Atlanta, GA
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