Pre-Columbian, Southern Mexico to Guatemala, Olmec, ca. 1500 to 500 BCE. An exquisite mask carved from rich green serpentine by a skilled sculptor of the Olmec culture, the oldest major civilization in Mexico. This piece is expertly worked with graceful, subtle contours and displays signature Olmec traits including jowly cheeks, a straight nose with delineated flaring nostrils, a downturned jaguar mouth with parted lips revealing incised teeth, puffy eyelids, and slanted eyes with drilled pupils/irises and corneal beds that may have contained inlays. The blending of both lifelike (relatively naturalistic) and contrasting abstract interpretation in this piece is captivating. The head is characteristically misshapen, a sign of high status most likely due to artificial cranial deformation, as the Olmec traditionally wore tight-fitting helmets; note that the forehead also has a depression in the center, which may have held an inlay. Custom stand. Size: 3.125" L x 6.1" W x 6.25" H (7.9 cm x 15.5 cm x 15.9 cm); 9" H (22.9 cm) on included custom stand.
The visage of this mask, impressive for its harmonious proportions, is neither entirely human nor entirely supernatural; instead it most likely represented an idealized entity that presents otherworldly aspects. The form of the mouth, for instance, references the so-called were-jaguar, a mighty mythical being with human and jaguar traits. The purpose of a mask like this has not been confirmed by archaeologists; however, the pecked concave depression on the back of the mask suggests that it was intended to be placed over a face or mummy bundle. It is remarkable to realize that the Olmec artisans carved serpentine and other hard stones using relatively primitive means of production, including stone tools and abrasives, stringsawing, and percussive methods. Despite these simple means, the sculptor of this mask an extremely sophisticated work - creating incredibly smooth facial countours to the planes of its cheeks, forehead, and chin as well as a lively, fleshy quality of its nose and parted lips . A superb example, impressive for the artisan's adept technique and indisputable artistry.
This piece will come with an extensive examination report from Stoetzer, Inc. Fine Art Services (dated November 2, 2012) that confirms its authenticity and dates it to the period from 1500 to 500 BCE.
Provenance: ex-Sabina Nayberg Estate, Dallas, Texas, USA, acquired in the 1970's; ex-private Lexington, Kentucky, USA collection
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