Pre-Columbian, West Mexico, Colima, Protoclassic period, ca. 100 BCE to 250 CE. A beautiful hand-built pottery turtle vessel with a highly-burnished surface, lustrous red slip coating, and wonderful zoomorphic features. The reptilian creature is comprised of a planar base, an overarching shell with a central crest and finely-incised linear motifs, a projecting cylindrical spout, a conical tail, and a roughly-triangular head with a thin mouth, a pair of petite eyes, and several pecked textural spots. Two indented areas along the shell's outer periphery suggest this vessel may have been transported using a series of tied ropes which would have fit inside. Typical Colima turtles are depicted standing on all four legs, making this vessel one of exceptional rarity since its legs are recessed within its shell cavity. Size: 10.75" L x 7.25" W x 4.125" H (27.3 cm x 18.4 cm x 10.5 cm).
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 symbols of virility as well as fertility. Terracotta sculptural representations of turtles are among the many animal effigies created by ancient artisans, though they are among some of the rarest zoomorphic effigy vessels inspired by the natural world of Western Mexico.
For a stylistically-similar example standing on four legs, please see The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number 2007.345.5: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/319065
A stylistically-similar example standing on four legs hammered for $9,375 at Sotheby's, New York "African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art Including Property from the Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation" Auction (May 13, 2011, lot 159): http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2011/african-oceanic-and-precolumbian-art-n08749/lot.159.html
Provenance: private Las Vegas collection via family descent. Collected between 1950 and 1965.
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Surface wear and minor abrasions commensurate with age as expected, very minor nicks to peripheries, base, and spout, with light roughness across most surfaces, and fading to slip coloration, otherwise intact and near-choice. Light earthen deposits within recessed areas, and wonderful manganese deposits throughout.