**First Time At Auction**
Pre-Columbian, Gulf Coast of Mexico, Veracruz culture, ca. 500 to 700 CE. An amazing, tall, hollow, buff ceramic figure with incredible iconography. The figure - who is of indeterminate sex - stands with feet slightly planted, hands down at sides, and head slightly raised. Atop the head perches a smaller human figure, hands holding tightly to the headdress of the larger figure. Size: 5.9" L x 9.8" W x 27.8" H (15 cm x 24.9 cm x 70.6 cm)
Further details appear as you look closer: the taller figure wears a huge, hollow, curved pectoral with applied fired clay twisted to look like thick braided rope hanging over it and, underneath it, a longer, hanging curved piece. This is secured around the neck with further thick, twisted bands of ceramic, emphasizing its great weight on the wearer's neck. He/she also wears large spool earrings, bracelets at the wrist, and a knotted loincloth. Atop his/her head is a rounded, disc-shaped headdress that the second figure is using like a podium. The larger's figure's face is lifelike, with well-shaped features, and, most notably, with the eyes closed in a tight squint.
The smaller figure, in contrast, has wide open eyes and a direct, forward-facing gaze. He/she is also of indeterminate sex, and wears a tremendous headdress that almost dwarfs his/her head. The headdress has a wide brim and a tall, flat crest and has applied ceramic elements that look like rough woven fiber around its brim and band. The figure also wears an elaborate, sleeveless robe, with applied, layered flaps on the back that might have been intended to look like feathers. Turning the figure around, you can see that the larger figure's headdress has a loop that encircles the smaller figure's lower body; a delightful detail of the piece are the tiny feet hanging down from under the robe, leaning against the larger figure's upper back.
Excavations near the town of Remojadas have revealed two types of impressive, detailed pottery figures: the Sonrientes, the joyous "smiling faces" depicting people of all ages and sexes, and figures like this one, more serious, mostly adult females, with elaborate costumes, themes, and sometimes props that all seem to point towards religious or political ceremonies. These figures are often found with the bodies smashed into pieces and the heads largely intact - they were ritually destroyed as burial offerings.
What is the meaning of this particular fabulous sculpture? Much of the religious practice of this culture and others in Mesoamerica involved shamans or priests entering an altered mental state, often through the use of strong alcohol or hallucinogenic drugs. Once in that trance-like state, they would become someone different. The closed eyes and tilted head of the larger figure here contrasted with the open eyes and forward-facing head of the smaller one suggest that this is a depiction of a religious trance. The tall figure has entered it and is now seeing the world through the eyes of the smaller figure.
Published and exhibited: “East/West Ancient American Art from the Coastal Regions of Mexico” from January 25th through April 30th, 2000 at William King Regional Arts Center, Abingdon, Virginia
Provenance: Ex-J. Smith Collection, Roswell, GA
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