Description Hollow figures portraying a seated person resembling an infant are unique to Olmec art, most examples coming from funerary and ritual deposits from the central Mexican highland states of Morelos and Puebla. Most were intentionally broken prior to burial in ritual caches. Some examples might have functioned as surrogates for infant sacrifices or, when found in adult burials, as symbols of spiritual rebirth. Others have symbolic icons carved, incised, or painted on their heads or backs. The incised and painted emblem on the top and rear of this figure's head has been associated with the god of springtime and regeneration. The motif also resembles the "four-dots and- bar" icon, interpreted as a diagram of Olmec cosmology. Yet it is most similar to the iconographic complex that distinguishes the Olmec maize god, including this deity's essential cleft-head. Many of these figures are in a seated position with outstretched legs, gesturing with an upraised arm or similar measured body position. Depicted with a slightly open mouth and upraised eyes and lacking genitalia, these enigmatic figures seem to reject the adult, human condition and embrace the spirit form. The seated position and limited repertoire of gestures suggest disciplined meditative exercises that would assist the shaman in his/her spiritual journey. Nonsexed figures of adults in contorted positions are relatively common in Olmec art, from monumental versions carved in stone to diminutive examples modeled in clay. They may depict postures taken by shamans, whether actual or metaphorical, for the rigors of spiritual transformation. The practice survives today among Huichol shamanic celebrants in northern Mexico.
- 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 Stendahl Galleries, Los Angeles [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; John G. Bourne, 1970s, by purchase; Walters Art Museum, 2009, by gift.
Credit Gift of John Bourne, 2009
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