Pre-Columbian, Mexico to Guatemala, Olmec, ca. 900 to 600 BCE. In a word, wow! Finely carved and string-cut from dark green omphacite jade, an incredibly expressive depiction of a were-jaguar transformation mask with a square jaw, feline eyes, flat nose with broad nostrils, trapezoidal mouth with flared upper lip and drooping corners, making for a feline mouth. The usual headband is not present, perhaps to allow room on the stone's surface for that incredibly dramatic expression, which even surpasses the most theatrical Olmec visages we have encountered. The eyes are almost bean-shaped with drilled pupils and up-turned outer canthi beneath a narrowed brow, and the mouth is enveloped by prominent nasolabial folds that act as a parenthesis emphasizing the dramatically curved fangs that protrude from the flared lips of the beast. Lengthy ear flaps flank the zoomorphic visage, while an impressed striation vertically adorns the top of the head. Additional perforations at the peripheries were created presumably for attachment. A truly exceptional full maskette! Size: 4.1" W x 5.3" H (10.4 cm x 13.5 cm); 7.3" H (18.5 cm) on included custom stand.
The attention to detail on this piece is quite impressive. Note the expressive lips and cleft palette of the jaguar mouth, the full nose with pierced nostrils, the stylized elliptical-shaped eyes, and the partially drilled circular motifs at the corners of the mouth. To the Olmecs, masks and maskettes like this example carried many meanings, not all of which are obvious to us today; however, scholars surmise that the color green was associated with vibrant growth, renewal, and given the cyclical conception of life and death, rejuvenation after death. Additionally, jaguar imagery symbolized power and might throughout the Pre-Columbian world; hence, warriors, rulers, hunters, and shamans alike associated themselves with this king of beasts, the largest and most powerful feline in the New World.
Research in the late 1990s and early 2000s pinpointed the source of what is colloquially referred to as "Olmec blue" jade in the lowland Motagua River near the modern-day border of Guatemala and Honduras; stone from this source was carved and traded widely throughout early Mesoamerica. The value of jade for ancient people lay in its symbolic power: perhaps its color was associated with water and vegetation; later, the Maya would place jade beads in the mouths of the dead. Many scholars have argued that the demand for jade contributed to the rise of long-distance trading networks and to the rise of urban centers in ancient Mesoamerica. This jade celt would have been regarded as an exceedingly valuable and rare piece of ceremonial art.
A similar example can be found in Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC under accession number PC.B.020. Additionally, another example depicting a slightly earlier period in the transformational process can be found at The Metropolitan Museum of Art under accession number 1977.187.33
A somewhat larger Olmec jade mask was sold by Sotheby's New York for $481,000 during their "African, Oceanic And Pre-Columbian Art" auction on May 16th, 2008 (sale number N08444, lot 14).
Accompanied by a hardbound CIRAM Scientific Analysts report attesting to its authenticity and Ruffner Art Advisory Fair Market Value report.
This piece has been searched against the Art Loss Register database and has been cleared. The Art Loss Register maintains the world's largest database of stolen art, collectibles, and antiques.
Provenance: private Orange City, Florida, USA collection; ex-L. Smyth collection, Orange City, Florida, USA, acquired in the 1970s to 1980s from father; ex-William C. Peverly private collection, Syracuse, New York, USA, obtained between the 1970s and 1980s
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Very light abrasions to some surfaces, otherwise intact and choice. Impressive preservation of detail. Stunningly smooth surfaces, and fantastic stone coloration visible.