Pre-Columbian, Lower Amazon Basin, Marajo Island, Brazil, ca. 800 to 1400 CE. A lovely hand-built ceramic dish decorated in a bichrome red-on-cream iconographic/decorative program - featuring a mesmerizing maze of owl effigy figures with wings and talons emerging from their heads in an abstract manner surrounded by a repeated linear border. The thick, rounded rim is decorated with incised and painted geometric motifs, and it is slightly indented at opposite ends where twin handles emerge in the form of bat heads protruding in extremely high relief. Such dishes were used for ceremonial offerings, and the overall shape of the vessel suggests a turtle form. The elaborate decorative program is akin to a labyrinth pattern, which is a hallmark of Marajoara ceremonial vessels. This in addition to the wondrous zoomorphic iconography designates this as a particularly special dish. Size: 12.5" W x 11.375" H (31.8 cm x 28.9 cm); 9.75" H (24.8 cm) on included custom stand.
Among the most masterfully painted Marajoaran dishes we have ever handled, this piece with its magical maze comprised of two columns of owl people/figures bordering a central column of owl masks - all with extending limbs and wings and guarded by a pair of bat-like high relief handles - is impressive not only for its style and technique, but also for its meaningful iconography. In the Pre-Columbian world, owls and bats - both nocturnal animals - were believed to be guardians in the afterlife. What's more, swooping and darting bats of the ominous nocturnal world were also associated with rain, fertility, and maize production. Finally, given the overall turtle like form, it is important to understand that in the Pre-Columbian world, turtle imagery represented the watery surface separating the sky from the underworld. In addition to its earth metaphor, turtles were also symbols of fertility.
Marajo Island - the largest river island of the world - is located at the mouths of the Amazon and Tocantins Rivers in Brazil. The indigenous of Marajo developed what is generally regarded as the oldest ceramic artform in Brazil - indeed among the oldest forms of the Americas. Numerous decorative traditions and techniques developed over time. Beginning with the Ananatubas, the oldest potters of the island dating from the 1st millennium BCE, several unique ceramic traditions emerged; however, what is known as the Marajoara polychrome phase existed from about 400 to 1350 CE. As we see in this example, these ceramics possess striking color palettes and an impressive diversity in technique and decoration that had never been seen before. In fact, the Marajoaran potters used about fifteen finishing techniques - featuring fine carving, modeled sculptural details, lush red and white washes, incision, excision, and polychrome painting.
For a similar example, see "O Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi", Banco Safra, 1986, p. 133.
Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection; ex-Eugene Lions collection, Geneva, Switzerland
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A few surface fissures and expected crazing to the slip. Normal surface wear with scuffs and abraded areas, but the painted program is very well preserved.