Pre-Columbian, Gulf Coast Mexico, Vera Cruz, ca. 3rd to 7th century CE. A ceramic standing "sonriente" figure. Like many hollow pieces of pottery from this region, it functions as an ocarina, with a mouthpiece at the top of the head and a hole low on its back for emitting sound. Sonrientes, or "smiling faces," are the most famous pottery from this period in Veracruz (known as Remojadas for its keystone archaeological site). Like this one, they depict wide, smiling, childlike faces, often with teeth showing. This figure also wears the traditional jewelry, including what appear to be delicately carved cowrie shells on the necklace; this is interesting because cowrie shells are a product of both Africa and the Pacific coast and would have had to be traded to arrive in Veracruz. He wears a huge, bell-like pectoral and large, pointed earrings. Atop his head is an elaborate, pointed headdress, and a short loincloth rests around his waist. Custom museum-quality display stand included. Size: 6.5" W x 11.125" H (16.5 cm x 28.3 cm); 11.5" H (29.2 cm) on included custom stand.
Smiling faces are very rare in Mesoamerican art, but in Remojadas and the surrounding area, there are thousands of these Sonrientes figures, leading to a mystery for archaeologists. Why that smile? Well some scholars believe that it was hallucinogenically produced perhaps by ingesting alcoholic pulque, while others including Miller and Taube suggest that the smiling figures were actually performers. (See Miller and Taube , The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya. London: Thames and Hudson, 1993, p. 10.)
For a larger, stylistically-similar Sonriente example, please see The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number 1979.206.561: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/312757
Provenance: private Boulder, Colorado, USA collection; ex-private New York, New York, USA collection
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Repairs to both legs, part of loincloth, one arm, and one earring. Surface wear and abrasions commensurate with age, small losses to ears, headdress, mouth piece, and pectoral, fading to pigmentation, and roughness in most areas. Light earthen deposits throughout. Ocarina still functions, but only produces one note.