Pre-Columbian, West Mexico, Colima, ca. 300 BCE to 300 CE. An exquisite redware seated warrior figure with shamanic status indicated by his horned helmet. He sits in a dynamic pose, with bent legs, brandishing an intimidating weapon across his chest, and peering directly ahead with an expressive visage comprised of wide open, almond-shaped eyes, a prominent curved nose fitted with a large nose ring, protruding ears, a horned helmet wrapped with a spotted jaguar pelt strap - the wild feline's head emerging behind the warrior's. The warrior wears a short-sleeved garment with intricately incised stylized geometric motifs on the back and a white loin cloth with a triangular shield protecting his privates. This piece, with the open spout emerging from the helmet, was most likely used to pour ritualistic libations. It exemplifies the sculptural style of the Colima with its smoothly modeled forms, burnished warm red hues, complex posture, theatrical gestures, and passionate facial expression. A fabulous example, covered with manganese deposits. Size: 11.5" W x 14.75" H (29.2 cm x 37.5 cm)
Scholars have interpreted the strapped horn as a stylized conch shell, with deep symbolic significance as it related to authority, dominion, and leadership; however, horned figures have also been interpreted as warriors and/or shamans who facilitated spiritual rituals. The jaguar symbolized power and might throughout the Pre-Columbian world. Warriors, rulers, hunters, and shamans alike associated themselves with this king of beasts, the largest and most powerful feline in the New World. Hence, the inclusion of the spotted jaguar pelt wound around this shaman warrior's horned helmet, with the fierce wild cat's head attached presenting a ferocious countenance with bulging eyes, alert ears, and an open mouth as if ushering a terrifying call was most likely modeled after the warrior's actual garb and certainly symbolizing his power.
Compare this piece to a similar example at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (accession number 1979.206.478 - https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1979.206.478/). The curatorial team writes, "Conjecture might suggest that the figure, with its twisting, dramatic pose, pugnacious expression, and upraised right hand clenched in a fist, was protecting the tomb into which it had been placed as a guardian." While the warrior/shaman figure presented here holds an intimidating weapon rather than clenching his fist, the curator's statements are also apropos with respect to this example.
Provenance: private R. Gill collection
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