Pre-Columbian, Colombia, Middle Magdalena, ca. 1000 to 1500 CE. A monumental male effigy lidded burial urn, meticulously handbuilt via the coiling technique, created to hold skeletal remains of a cherished ancestor. The lid presents a cazique sitting on a raised throne with hands on knees of his outspread legs, revealing his genitalia, presenting a somewhat emaciated body that is extensively decorated with incised geometric motifs on the chest and back (including the back of his head), and a seemingly entranced visage delineated with coffee bean shaped eyes, a hooked openwork nose ideal for decorating with a nose ring, a petite mouth that is slightly open as if chanting or singing, and openwork ears also ready for suspending earrings. Below the figure, on both front and back are panels of elaborate incised rectilinear geometric motifs that complement the designs on the cazique's body. Size: 15.5" W x 26" H (39.4 cm x 66 cm)
In the valley of the River Magdalena, ancient rituals related to the preparation of the body of the deceased for its journey to the afterlife involved the practice of secondary burials in urns like this example. According to the curatorial department of the Museo del Oro Banco de la Republica, "There are two different stages in the secondary burial funerary custom: first of all a primary burial takes place, where the corpse is buried for a certain period of time established in the ritual, and then after this, it is exhumed for burial once more in an urn, possibly amidst a great collective ceremony. Urns have been found in well tombs with side chamber, with certain local and regional variations. The chambers contain between three and seventy urns, each holding charred bone remains, large fractured bones, and fragments of skull. Each is accompanied by pots, bowls and goblets, most of which were made exclusively for the dead person, for they show no signs of having been used. Spindle whorls, rollers and axes have also been found."
Scholars argue that the custom of creating burial urns is related to the association of bones with the afterlife. According to Armand Labbe's "Colombia Before Columbus," "There is a widespread belief among many Indians of both Middle and South America that bones are a form of seed, from which new life will spring. Recall the Mexican allegory of the personification of the dual lifeforce, Quetzalcoatl, descending to the underworld to retrieve the bones of mankind to resurrect them to a new life." Labbe continues, "Within the Colombian context, the act of placing bones in cylindrical, phalliform urns, and placing these in the womb-like shaft-and-chamber tomb within the Earth Mother, seems to be an enactment of such beliefs." (Labbe, "Colombia Before Columbus: The People, Culture, and Ceramic Art of Prehispanic Colombia." (1986) New York: Rizzoli, p. 116)
For similar examples, see Armand Labbe, "Colombia Before Columbus: The People, Culture, and Ceramic Art of Prehispanic Colombia." (1986) New York: Rizzoli, p. 118, figures 104 and 105.
This piece has been tested using thermoluminescence (TL) and has been found to be ancient and of the period stated. A full report will accompany purchase.
Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection; ex-private T. Misenhimer collection, Hollywood, California, USA, famous Hollywood film producer
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Lid repaired from multiple pieces; normal surface wear commensurate with age. Figures arms and legs show signs of repair. Phalliform urn is intact, which is quite unusual. Nice manganese deposits, firing clouds, and root marks.