Pre-Columbian, West Mexico, Nayarit, ca. 300 BCE to 300 CE. A colorful, beautifully-preserved ceramic figure of a standing woman. She leans slightly forward on her legs, which are close together and gently bent. Her stomach bulges outward as if pregnant, and her delicately-sculpted hands rest on her hips just below her stomach. Her face is a broad, thin ovoid, with a high forehead that may indicate a cultural practice of skull shaping. The most fascinating part of this figure is her gorgeously-colored body: patterns of dots, crosses, lines, and curves in grey, creamy white, and deep red give the impression of a body tattooed or painted with dramatic, complex motifs. Size: 3.7" W x 12" H (9.4 cm x 30.5 cm)
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. An effigy like this one may 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.
The piece was featured at Sotheby's New York on May 16, 2013 (Lot 14) with an estimate of $8000-$12000: http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2013/africanoceanic-n08994/lot.14.html
Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection; ex-Arte Primitivo; ex-Albert J. Monique Grant, New York, USA, acquired 1950s-60s
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