Pre-Columbian, Southern Mexico to Guatemala, Olmec, ca. 900 to 500 BCE. An exquisite, finely-carved blue-green jade, miniature Olmec Baby, seated with legs extended and head cocked so as to look upward toward the celestial realm. The figure gestures expressively with the left arm bent and left hand placed over his chest, and the right arm also bent at the elbow, only the forearm and hand are raised outward from the body. Hallmark Olmec features on the characteristically elongated head include drilled almond-shaped eyes with double pupils, a naturalistic nose, an open mouth with upturned lips characteristic of were-jaguars, and tab-shaped ears. The jowly visage is of a recognizable "baby face" presentation, and the elongated head is a figural depiction of ritualistic cranial deformation. The attention to detail on this piece is rather impressive. Note the expressive lips, clefted palette of the jaguar mouth, and the full nose with flared nostrils, as well as the delineated fingers and toes. A superb sculptural work from the Olmec, replete with sumptuous colors and expert artistry! Size: 1.125" H (2.9 cm)
Research in the late 1990s and early 2000s pinpointed the source of what is colloquially referred to as "Olmec blue" jadeite in the lowland Motagua River near the modern-day border of Guatemala and Honduras; stone from this source was carved and traded widely throughout early Mesoamerica. The value of jade for ancient people lay in its symbolic power: perhaps its color was associated with water and vegetation; later, the Maya would place jade beads in the mouths of the dead. Many scholars have argued that the demand for jadeite contributed to the rise of long-distance trading networks and to the rise of urban centers in ancient Mesoamerica. This would have been an exceedingly valuable and rare jadeite figure.
The Olmec are the ancestors of all Mesoamerican civilizations, and their artistic style, practiced in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico and diffused outward through extensive trade networks that stretched into northern Mexico and central America, were inspirational for those who came after. As the first major civilization in this fertile area, scholars believe that Olmec artwork was revered by later civilizations that kept pieces as heirlooms. The Olmec style is famous for its anthropomorphic depictions and became synonymous with elite status in the highlands. They created enormous stone heads, probably the first thing many people think of when remembering the Olmec, but they also made handheld figures like this one as personal totems or divinities created for display in homes or certain types of temples.
Provenance: private West Palm Beach, Florida, USA collection, ex-Worham collection
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