Arts of the Americas
On View: American Art Galleries, 5th Floor, The Americas’ First Peoples, 4000 B.C.E.–1521 C.E.
The Olmec civilization (1400–400 B.C.E.) of Mexico’s Gulf Coast region produced small, portable figurines intended for ritualistic purposes. These three works display the characteristic Olmec sculptural features of a drooping lip and an elongated, flattened head. The winged figure and felsite figurine reflect the Olmec tradition of merging human and animal traits. Such composite forms relate to the ability of shamans, or ritual specialists, to transform themselves into animals. The wings represent those of a bat, associated with the darkness of the underworld. The figurine’s bushy tail and cap with feline ears suggest a jaguar, a sacred animal revered for its power. Jadeite and felsite were not native to Olmec ceremonial centers. Challenging to acquire and laborious to carve, they were valuable materials. The winged figure’s discovery in Costa Rica indicates the reverence for Olmec carvin
Felsite, traces of red pigment
Preclassic Period or Middle Formative
2 1/4 x 1 3/8 x 3/4 in. (5.7 x 3.5 x 1.9 cm) (show scale)
Collection of Christopher B. Martin
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Olmec. Standing Figurine, 800-500 B.C.E. Felsite, traces of red pigment, 2 1/4 x 1 3/8 x 3/4 in. (5.7 x 3.5 x 1.9 cm). Collection of Christopher B. Martin, L75.15. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, L75.15_transpc003.jpg)
overall, L75.15_transpc003.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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Small figurine carved out of reddish-brown felsite with the typical Olmec drooping-lipped face. The figure also has features of an animal such as a cap with feline ears and a long, bushy tail at the back, both suggesting that he is wearing a costume of an animal, perhaps a jaguar. The figure has two small drill holes at the eyes and at the downturned corners of the mouth.
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