Pre-Columbian, Mexico City region, Aztec, Post-classic Mexico, ca. 1400 to 1500 CE. A diamond-shaped volcanic stone, weathered to a dramatic black, with a large, round solar disc motif at its center and additional carving on the projecting sides. Additional decoration is on each corner and down the sides, with the back (as shown in the photographs) undecorated. These corner and side decorations are geometric - concentric triangles, overlaid rectangles, small tab-like shapes - and in relief. They may represent flint knives for sacrifices. They form boundaries to the large circle at the center of the piece. At the center of that circle is a sun image with an anthropomorphic face - the deity Tonatiuh, inside the glyph for "movement" ("ollin" in Nahuatl). Size: 5.5" L x 16.25" W x 16.5" H (14 cm x 41.3 cm x 41.9 cm)
This central image is comparable to the interior two rings of the famous Piedra del Sol, a nearly 12 foot wide and over 20 ton monolithic circle made in the early 1500s and discovered in 1790 underneath the Mexico City Cathedral. If you look closely at the ring around the deity's face, you can see four squares offset around the face. "Ollin" is the name of the current era when the stone was made, while the four squares represent the four previous eras, each of which ended with the destruction of the world and humanity.
On this stone, five further concentric circles ring the face of Tonatiuh. The iconography is more difficult to decipher here due to the weathered nature of the stone, but the iconography of similar stones - like the Piedra del Sol, the Tizoc Stone, the stone of Motecuhzoma I, and unnamed examples at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Yale University Art Gallery, and Peabody Museum of Natural History - suggests that these are calendrical marks and may also indicate the location of historical events.
What was the purpose of this massive stone and ones like it? It is likely a temalacatl, a "round stone" in Nahuatl, a sculptured item used in various ways in Aztec/Mexica society. Friar Diego Duran in his "Book of the Gods and Rites" (1574 to 1576) recorded that sacrificial victims - captured warriors - were laid atop stones like this, with their blood draining into a nearby vessel. Others grace temple architecture and furniture.
Provenance: private New York, New York, USA collection; ex-Arte Primitivo Gallery, New York, New York, USA in 2015; ex-Arthur M. Bullowa collection, acquired 1950s-1970s
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One corner was partially lost at some point in the past - the piece was originally square. Many of the motifs are nicely preserved, despite the weathered surface, which has gained a black patina and encrustations in the lower profile areas of the piece.