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Seated Nobleman Ocarina (Vessel Flute)
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Seated Nobleman Ocarina (Vessel Flute)

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Description Vessel flutes, called ocarinas in the Americas, frequently are used by shamanic practioners today as a vehicle of call or communication with the spirit world. The same purpose likely extends back in time to the earliest human societies in the hemisphere. This ocarina's mouthpiece and air duct are found on the figure's right shoulder and back. When played, the seated figure would face roughly forward. This wind instrument renders a seated man with arms crossed over his chest in a formal pose. His fine attire and regal bearing imply nobility, the ocarina/figurine perhaps portraying a ruler given the iconic meanings of the motifs on his face, produced either by intentional scarification or face-painting. His right cheek displays the "jester god," an emblem of royalty which aligned the wearer with the maize god and the power of agricultural fertility and world renewal. Such affiliation is further connoted by the sprouting maize plant depicted in the center of his brow which recalls the trefoil crown of the maize god and of Maya kings. This royal crown, replete with its sprouting maize icon, has its origins among the Olmecs of the Formative Period (1200-500 BCE). This regal Maya ocarina/figurine also sports a long loincloth and hip wrap, and his body is adorned with impressively large earflares and a shell pendant.
  • 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.
  • Transformation: Art of the Ancient Americas. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. 2018-2019.
Provenance Stendahl Galleries, Los Angeles [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; John G. Bourne, 1970s, by purchase; by bequest to Walters Art Museum, 2017.
Credit Bequest of John G. Bourne, 2017

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550-850 CE (Late Classic)
earthenware, post-fire paint
Accession Number
H: 6 7/16 x W: 2 11/16 x D: 3 1/16 in. (16.3 x 6.9 x 7.8 cm)
Location Within Museum
Not On View


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