Pre-Columbian, Western Mexico, Nayarit, Chinesco style, Protoclassic period, ca. 100 BCE to 250 CE. A hand-built redware pottery vessel depicting a standing canine companion. The dog is heavily emaciated, with exposed ribs, a wrinkled face, and a visible spinal column. Standing upon four tubular legs, the animal's abdomen has a rotund shape despite its malnourished appearance. The morose countenance is comprised of almond-shaped eyes with incised pupils, a petite nose, pointed ears, and a thin smile, with a tab-shaped tail capping its posterior. It wears a double-beaded collar around its thick neck, and an ovoid hole perforates the head. Covered in a lustrous red-orange slip, this is a rare example of a Chinesco-style dog! Size: 12" L x 7" W x 8" H (30.5 cm x 17.8 cm x 20.3 cm).
Dogs in Nayarit culture were seen as both companion animals as well as creatures that were fattened up to be eaten, and were deeply-related to mythology surrounding the Underworld - seen as guides for the deceased into the afterlife. This style of sculpture is known as Chinesco by collectors because of its stylistic similarities to Chinese art. Clay figures like this one are the only remains that we have today of a sophisticated and unique culture in West Mexico -- they made no above-ground monuments or sculptures, at least that we know of, which is in strong contrast to developments elsewhere in ancient Mesoamerica. Instead, their tombs were their lasting works of art: skeletons arrayed radially with their feet positioned inward, and clay offerings, like this one, placed alongside the walls facing inward, near the skulls. A large effigy like this one would most likely have flanked the entrance to a tomb in a way that archaeologists have interpreted as guarding. Some scholars have connected these dynamic sculptures of the living as a strong contrast to the skeletal remains whose space they shared, as if they mediated between the living and the dead.
Provenance: private New York, New York, USA collection; ex-private Nevada, USA collection, acquired in the late 1990s; ex-Dr. David Harner collection, Arkansas, USA, acquired in 1950s to 1960s, collection #AA. 12
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Vessel repaired from multiple pieces with some areas of restoration with resurfacing and overpainting along break lines. Surface wear commensurate with age, small chips to legs, ears, body, and tail, with some discoloration and fading to slip color, otherwise excellent. Nice earthen and mineral deposits throughout.