Pre-Columbian, Gulf Coast Mexico, Veracruz (Vera Cruz), ca. 3rd to 7th century CE. A hand-built pottery copal-storing vessel with two deep chambers within a rectangular body. The vessel depicts a fearsome jaguar with bent legs, a tab-shaped tail, and anthropomorphic arms and fingers. The mold-formed feline head is presented with incised almond-shaped eyes, a circular nose, a smiling mouth with bared fangs and a drooping tongue, and perky ears. Applied red pigment around the mouth emphasizes the fearsome guise of the feline. Size: 5.125" L x 3" W x 2.3" H (13 cm x 7.6 cm x 5.8 cm).
Incense played a major role in Mesoamerican religious practices from the Olmec onward. Many tombs are outfitted with incensarios and the items also seem to have been used in ceremonies by the living. The incense was made from "copal" - tree resin harvested from the torchwood tree. By burning copal, Mesoamerican priests made offerings to the gods - for example, during an Aztec ceremony for the god Huitzilopochtli, the hummingbird-formed god of war, priests hoped that their prayers would be carried upward along with the wafting smoke and scent produced from the incense.
Provenance: private Southern California, USA collection, acquired in the 1970s to mid-1980s
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