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Male Figure
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Male Figure

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Description The figure's jaguar helmet-headdress identifies him as a warrior. He may be a vanquished combatant, implied by the ropelike element around his neck, the thinner ropes encircling his torso, and his nudity. Throughout Mesoamerica, captured warriors were often denuded during victory celebrations and subsequent sacrificial rites. His nearly closed eyes and slightly opened mouth may signify a trancelike state or perhaps death. The turtle carapace drum in his right hand connotes a ritual performance . The figure appears to wear the flayed skin of a sacrificial victim, intimated by the "sleeves" on each arm (note the end of the skin at each wrist). The donning of flayed skin was part of the rituals associated with the god Xipe Totec. This deity, particularly venerated among peoples of the Gulf Coast, is associated with the miracle of agricultural renewal each springtime. In the sixteenth century, the god's festival occurred during March, when farmers began preparing their fields for planting. Just as the flayed skin would rot on the body of the ritual participant, eventually revealing the young, vital warrior within, so too the planted seed's husk rots and the new, vigorous sprout emerges. The sculptural style of this male figure is known as El Zapotal or Upper Remojadas I, named for archaeological sites in the Río Blanco coastal plain of Veracruz where artifacts of this type have been found. At El Zapotal, large-scale, hollow ceramics depicting humans, deity impersonators, and animals, as well as ritual paraphernalia such as incense burners with decorated lids were found buried inside architectural mounds. Some were grouped together, their arrangement suggesting a vignette of ritual behavior or ideology preserved in sculpted clay. Most were intentionally broken before burial. While these large ceramic figures are known from archaeological contexts, many have also been fabricated by ceramic artists in the twentieth century, in the style of such ancient works. This figure's precise dating remains unclear.
  • 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 Ron Messick Fine Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico; purchased by John G. Bourne, Sante Fe, 2002; given to John G. Bourne Foundation, 2002 [1]; given to Walters Art Museum, 2013. [1] according to Bourne Foundation accounts
Credit Gift of John G. Bourne Foundation, 2013

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Probably twentieth century
earthenware, black paint
Accession Number
H: 42 11/16 x W: 20 1/16 x D: 11 15/16 in. (108.5 x 50.9 x 30.3 cm)
Location Within Museum
Not On View


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