Pre-Columbian, West Mexico, Jalisco, El Arenal style, Protoclassic Period, ca. 100 BCE to 250 CE. A tall female figure of substantial form standing upon a pair of arching feet and stocky legs. Her slightly distended torso, ample hips, and delineated female genitalia are suggestive of pregnancy, with an impressed navel and globular breasts emphasizing her feminine physique. She stands upright with a rigid posture and rounded shoulders with attenuated arms, the right draped next to her side and her right holding aloft a simple bowl. The finely-stylized, elongated, and skyward-staring visage is comprised of almond-shaped eyes, a prominent nose with a barrel-shaped nose ring, tall ears with accompanying ear spools, and full cheeks and chin, all beneath a simple head band. Her body boasts a red-brown slip exterior, though traces of cream-hued pigment around her waist and on her eyes and ear spools suggest she may have once exhibited even more elaborate decorations. A fabulous example from ancient Western Mexico! Size: 10.75" W x 22.25" H (27.3 cm x 56.5 cm).
Clay figures like this example are the only remains that we have today of this sophisticated and unique culture in West Mexico. The indigenous made no above-ground monuments or sculptures, at least that we know of, which is in stark contrast to developments elsewhere in ancient Mesoamerica. Instead, they developed a widely-used method of burial known as shaft tombs.
The dead were buried down shafts - 3 to 20 meters deep - that were dug vertically or near vertically through "tepetate" - the volcanic tuff that makes up the geology of the region. The base of the shaft would open into one or more horizontal chambers with a low ceiling. 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. Their tombs were their lasting works of art: skeletons arrayed radially with their feet positioned inward, and clay offerings, like this one, placed alongside the walls facing inward, near the skulls.
This is a figure made to be placed inside those mausoleums, perhaps to mediate between the worlds of the living and the dead. However, we unfortunately lack the information we would need to understand what these figures were truly made for. Do they represent everyday people, even individuals? Are 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.
A similar, seated example with dense painted embellishments hammered for $7,200 at Sotheby's, New York "Arcade, Furniture, & Decorations" Auction (June 22, 2007, lot 81): http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2007/arcade-furniture-decorations-n08334/lot.81.html
Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection; ex-private T. Misenhimer collection, Hollywood, California, USA, famous Hollywood film producer
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Head, body, and bowl repaired from several large pieces with areas of restoration, resurfacing, and overpainting along break lines. Surface wear and abrasions commensurate with age as expected, minor nicks and losses to feet, arms, bowl, ears, and head, with flaking and chipping to pigmentation. Nice earthen and mineral deposits throughout.