Description Among the Mexica (Aztecs) of highland Mexico, dogs were associated with the deity Xolotl, the god of death. This deity and a dog were believed to lead the soul on its journey to the underworld. The Mexica also associated Xolotl with the planet Venus as the evening star (portrayed with the head of a canine) and the twin brother of the deity Quetzalcóatl, who personified Venus as the morning star. The dog's special relationship with humans is highlighted by a number of Colima dog effigies wearing humanoid masks. This curious effigy type has been interpreted as a shamanic transformation image or as a reference to the modern Huichol myth of the origin of the first wife, who was transformed from a dog into a human. However, recent scholarship suggests a new explanation of these sculptures as the depiction of the animal's tonalli, its inner essence, which is made manifest by being given human form via the mask. The use of the human face to make reference to an object's or animal's inner spirit is found in the artworks of many ancient cultures of the Americas, from the Inuit of Alaska and northern Canada to peoples in Argentina and Chile. The reclining dog has seemingly just woken, slightly raising its head and perking up its ears in reaction to whatever disturbed its slumber. The artist skillfully modeled its body, especially the muscles and skeletal features.
- Art of Ancient America, 1500 B.C.-1400 A.D.. Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe. 1998-2008.
- Exploring Art of the Ancient Americas: The John Bourne Collection Gift. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore; Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville. 2012-2013.
Provenance David Stuart Gallelries [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; John G. Bourne, 1980s, by purchase; Walters Art Museum, 2009, by gift.
Credit Gift of John Bourne, 2009
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