Pre-Columbian, Mexico, Veracruz culture, also known as Totonac (Totonaca), Remojadas, ca. 300 to 600 CE. A truly incredible, lifesize ceramic seated figure, startlingly lifelike, and dressed in an intriguing headdress. The figure is an ocarina or vessel flute, with multiple holes on the body to control the flow of air and create varied sounds. The top of the headdress is a massive ovoid opening for amplifying and emitting sound. The figure sits with legs crossed as if upon the ground or a flat platform, with the details of the feet carefully depicted. One hand rests on a knee, while the other is raised in a gesture. The fingers are remarkably lifelike, especially on the hand resting on the knee, where they are flexed at the knuckles. Both wrists are adorned with identical bracelets that look like bended reeds tied in place by ribbons. The figure wears a loincloth and has no visible sex. Size: 25" L x 25.5" W x 30" H (63.5 cm x 64.8 cm x 76.2 cm)
Around the neck, the figure wears a necklace/instrument ornament that matches the bracelets, but is much larger, with the folded reed-like object resting against the back of the neck and a thick band holding it in place and looping around the neck, its surface scored to give the impression of a tightly twisted rope. This object is part of the ocarina function and is open on its lower end. The face is unadorned, though likely was painted when first made, with large, heavily-lidded eyes, a short, broad nose, and a jutting mouth, closed and thin-lipped in an expression that reads to the modern viewer as serious. The figure's ears are adorned with hanging earrings that resemble the form of decorated jadeite celts, held in place with thick, twisted bands through the lobes. Fastened onto the head by a strap under the chin is the massive opening described above, which is decorated at the front with the same folded reed-form as the bracelets and necklace.
The sophisticated skills used by the artist to construct this piece demonstrate how advanced ceramic technology was in this culture. The arms, head, and legs, all hollow, were made separately and fitted onto the torso, with the joints smoothed over to disguise them. The ornaments were also constructed separately, then pressed onto the surface of the body. The piece was fired all together after the clay had dried for a brief period. Imagine the workshop where this item was made - full of disembodied limbs and heads in the process of being sculpted into shape.
Who did this figure represent? Excavations near the modern Mexican town of Remojadas have revealed two types of impressive, detailed pottery figures from the Veracruz period: the Sonrientes, the joyous "smiling faces", and figures like this one, more serious, mostly adult figures, with elaborate costumes, themes, and sometimes props that all seem to point towards religious or political ceremonies. These figures are often found with the bodies smashed into pieces and the heads largely intact - they were ritually destroyed as burial offerings. Their clothing suggests that they depict people of import in society, maybe priests or nobility. The sophisticated musical instrument incorporated into this figure adds a further layer of mystery to the identity.
See a similar seated figure at the Art Institute of Chicago: https://www.artic.edu/artworks/143564/figure-of-a-seated-leader; See another large-scale ocarina figure in the collection of the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA, from Campeche (also on the Gulf Coast): https://art.thewalters.org/detail/80414/seated-nobleman-ocarina-vessel-flute/
This piece was tested using thermoluminescence (TL) analysis by Oxford Authentication Ltd. and has been found to be ancient and of the period stated. A full report will accompany purchase.
Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection; ex-Ian Arundel collection, Old Curiosity Cabinet, Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, California, USA
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