Pre-Columbian, West Mexico, Jalisco, Ameca-Etzatlan style, Protoclassic Period, ca. 100 BCE to 250 CE. An exceptional hollow-bodied polychrome female statue depicted kneeling with a skirt covering her thighs. She leans slightly forward above a smooth abdomen, her rounded shoulders and spiral-adorned globular breasts emphasizing her powerful feminine physique. She holds a small bowl in her left hand with her right hand outstretched, each hand bearing strikingly naturalistic fingers and nails. A thick neck holds aloft a large head with almond-shaped eyes, a slender nose with accompanying rings, tall ears with a trio of earrings, and a gaping mouth full of delineated teeth, all beneath a simple cap. Her cream-slip face exhibits dark-brown pigment on her brow and eyes, with painted scarification marks extending from each mouth corner and bottom lip. The ears, torso, arms, and bowl are all colored with a deep red slip, giving her a lovely presentation evocative of ancient West Mexico! Size: 12" W x 22" H (30.5 cm x 55.9 cm).
West Mexican shaft tomb figures like this example derive their names from the central architectural feature that we know of from this culture. Jalisco, located on Mexico's southwestern coast, was part of the shaft tomb culture during this time, along with neighbors in nearby Colima and Nayarit. These people would build generally rectangular vertical or near-vertical shafts down from the ground level – usually about 3 to 20 meters deep – through tepetate, the volcanic tuff that makes up the geology of the region, to narrow horizontal tunnels that led to one or more vaulted or rounded burial chambers.
These shafts were almost always dug beneath a dwelling, probably a family home, and seem to have been used as family mausoleums, housing the remains of many related individuals. Figures like this one were placed into the tombs; researchers believe that they were placed around the edges facing inward, as if in conversation with the dead. Grouped with other figures, and alongside clay bowls, and boxes, figures like this one were positioned around the body (or bodies), near the skull.
Unfortunately, we lack the necessary information to fully understand what these figures were made for - Did they represent everyday people, even individuals? Were they religious? Were they created to mediate between the living and the dead? Whatever their purpose, today they are beautiful artwork and reminders of the mysterious past.
For a stylistically-similar example with faded colors and bowl held on shoulder, please see the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, accession number M.83.217.28a-b: https://collections.lacma.org/node/220265
A stylistically-similar example with no bowl hammered for $15,000 at Sotheby's, New York "African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art Including Property from the Krugier and Lasansky Collections" Auction (May 16, 2014, lot 261): http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2014/african-oceanic-n09146/lot.261.html
Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection; ex-private T. Misenhimer collection, Hollywood, California, USA, famous Hollywood film producer
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Figure repaired from multiple large pieces with some areas of restoration, resurfacing, overpainting, and light adhesive residue along break lines. Surface wear and abrasions commensurate with age, small losses to ears, fingers, and legs, with chipping and fading to pigmentation, and light roughness across most surfaces. Light earthen deposits throughout.