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Description Conservation Exhibitions Provenance Credit
Description A labret is a kind of plug inserted through a piercing below the lower lip. In the world of the Aztecs and their contemporaries in Mexico ca. 1300-1520 CE, the labret was usually a sign of status or even ethnic identity. Labrets were often made of materials symbolic of the importance of their wearer, with the most important people wearing lip plugs of gold, rock crystal, or perhaps jade; while commoners might wear ones of wood or bone. This example is made from obsidian, a volcanic glass that was a frequently-used material in Central Mexico. As a brittle glass, it is extremely difficult to work with, to shape it into the rounded forms shown here. However, the lip plug as we see it today seems to be a modern combination of two distinct pieces, one in the shape of a bird’s head and the other the simple flanged shape of the plug itself. When the Conservation department x-rayed this piece, they found that a modern screw has been inserted to join these two pieces, both of which do seem to be ancient. It is possible that the appearance of this lip plug has more to do with modern tastes than ancient fashion.
Date Description Narrative
8/31/2018Examinationexamined for exhibition
  • Transformation: Art of the Ancient Americas. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. 2018-2019.
Provenance Throckmorton Fine Art, New York [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; John G. Bourne, September 18, 1994, by purchase; by bequest to Walters Art Museum, 2017.
Credit Bequest of John G. Bourne, 2017

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obsidian, traces of red pigment
Accession Number
L: 2 5/16 x W: 3/4 x D: 1 1/8 in. (5.87 x 1.91 x 2.86 cm)
Location Within Museum
Not On View


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