Pre-Columbian, Southern Mexico to Guatemala, Olmec, ca. 1150 to 550 BCE. An extraordinary celt both in size and presentation, hand-carved from a single contiguous piece of forest-green jadeite with densely-congregated natural veining of pale-green hues. The celt boasts convex faces that gently expand towards the wider head and an acutely-angled blade edge which courses around the peripheries before terminating at the rounded end of the thick handle. The celt is a tapered hand tool of a highly-stylized ritual form with an overall ovoid shape. Meticulously flaked and then sanded to a smooth, reflective sheen, this is a stunning piece of art, designed to resemble a common weapon but employed for a votive function. Examples of this size are incredibly scarce, but have been found in tombs standing together with jadeite anthropomorphic figures. Custom museum-quality display stand included. Size: 2.125" W x 29.4" H (5.4 cm x 74.7 cm); 31.6" H (80.3 cm) on included custom stand.
Olmec artisans used long distance trade routes to acquire greenstone like this from Eastern Guatemala, over three hundred miles from their homeland. All of this speaks to its immense value in society. Green stones like jadeite seem to have been associated with water, vegetation, and young corn, the staple food of Olmec life. Recent scholarship has linked the embrace of green serpentine by the Olmec to the importance of corn in the Olmec economy as greenstone along with quetzal plumes symbolized verdant maize, a most valuable staple, to the indigenous peoples. In fact, greenstone celts like this example symbolized ears of corn and were used as a form of currency by the Olmec (Karl A. Taube, Olmec Art at Dumbarton Oaks, 1996, p. 18). Based on burial practices, particularly the objects from important burials at La Venta in the present day Mexican state of Tabasco, we believe that green stone was reserved for high nobility, royalty, and the gods.
This item is an exemplar of ancient Mesoamerican sculpture, impressive for its technique, iconography, and well as the inherent beauty of ancient stone-working. A superb sculptural work from the Olmec, indeed the first Mesoamerican civilization that most regard as the forerunner of subsequent ancient American cultures such as the Maya and Aztecs!
A stylistically-similar example of a much smaller size hammered for EUR 21,250 ($24,287.37) at Christie's, Paris "A Quantum of History: The Progogine Collection" auction (sale 16282, April 9, 2018, lot 21): https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/sculptures-statues-figures/hache-votive-olmeque-preclassique-env-900-600-6131727-details.aspx?from=searchresults&intObjectID=6131727&sid=c31dfff8-7431-4b15-8ef6-e02521fe6985
Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection; ex-Ian Arundel collection, Old Curiosity Cabinet, Los Angeles, California, USA
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Repaired from 4 large pieces with light restoration, resurfacing, and overpainting along break lines; light polishing done after repairs. Minor nicks to blade edge and both faces, with light abrasions. Smooth surface texture still present, and natural jadeite colors are still vivid. Old inventory label on verso.