Description Large, figural ceramic portrayals are rare in the artistic history of the Atlantic Watershed region, the later centuries typified instead by large-scale stone sculptures. The identity of this seated portly figure is somewhat ambiguous; he may be a chief or other powerful individual, suggested by the stool-like sphere upon which he sits. This recalls the contemporaneous throne-seats or low, circular tables that are typical of the region at this time. Alternatively, the tiny gourd held to his nostrils may indicate his ingestion of mind-altering snuff, and thus suggest the portrayal of a shaman. Shamanism is a spiritual belief found throughout the world. Its central principle holds that every human being has a spirit companion, but only those with specially honed abilities are able to know their spirit form. These special individuals can transform themselves into their companion spirits, harness their supernatural powers, and wield these potent forces on earth- to cure illness, foretell the future, or ensure success on the battlefield. The shaman's transformational process is aided by such activities as meditative ritual pose, dance and music, and sensory deprivation. Often, too, it was assisted by the ingestion of mind-altering substances, from tobacco to alcohol to psychotropic plants and even the controlled use of animal poisons, frequently consumed in snuff form. Often spirit companions take the form of powerful animals such as the jaguar and vulture. Others are zoomorphs whose natural life cycle includes a physical transformation such as the frog, which changes from a waterbound fish (a tadpole) to a terrestrial being. If this sculpture depicts a shaman, the fact that the figure retains his human attributes may imply a pre-transformation portrayal.
- 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 Enrique Vargas [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; John G. Bourne, 1990s, by purchase; by bequest to Walters Art Museum, 2017.
Credit Bequest of John G. Bourne, 2017
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