Pre-Columbian, Mexico or Guatemala, Teotihuacan, ca. 450 to 650 CE. An exceptional incensario (incense burner) of a remarkably complete form - including the elaborate chimney lid and hourglass shaped base - called a theater-type incensario because the face wearing a spectacular headdress & earplugs is looking out from a stage with a proscenium adorned by many symbolic appliques called adornos - a complex, multidimemnsional structure covered with these press-molded symbolic ornaments, including three butterflies, a pair of owls at the lower corners, two headdress donning deities at the upper corners, several glyph-like plaques, feathers, flowers, and a trio of roundels across the top inlaid with mirrors. The headdress presents a deity maskette donning a bird mask headband, large earspools, with a dramatic spray of plumage behind topped by yet another visage wearing a headdress. A considerable amount of extant original pigment in yellow, blue-green, and red-brown hues remains. Size: 27" L x 17" W (68.6 cm x 43.2 cm); 27.25" H (69.2 cm) on included custom stand.
Numerous scholars have suggested that censers like this example were instrumental to a cult dedicated to warriors killed in combat. Hence, the piece may represent the Great Goddess believed to have been the goddess of the underworld, war, darkness, earth, water, and creation. The owls depicted on the incensario support this as owls were considered creatures of darkness by the ancients of the Americas. What's more the Great Goddess usually wears a bird headdress as depicted on the uppermost visage of this piece. This incensario may also reference the Butterfly God given the surrounding butterflies. Indeed Kubler (1972) and von Wnning (1987) associated butterflies with the deceased. (The Teotihuacan Trinity: The Sociopolitical Structure of an Ancient . . ." by Annabeth Headrick, University of Texas Press, 2007).
This censer is known as a "theater type" and is among the most emblematic articles of visual culture of Teotihuacan. These were first created in the Tzacualli period (1 to 100 CE), and during the following years until the demise of Teotihuacan, artisans created more and more intricate compositions. Molds were used to make various ornaments that were glued to the primary body and the plates were arranged in superimposed planes as we see in this example. The numerous molded motifs include zoomorphic entitites such as birds, butterflies, and snails; phytomorphic entities such as corn, pumpkins, cotton etc.; and anthropomorphic masks with attributes belonging to warriors, leaders, or deities; as well as glyph plaques.
Many cultures throughout the world have used incense for both religious and secular purposes, and the Pre-Columbian Teotihuacan peoples were no exception. Their unique aesthetic is displayed in this beautiful incensario; note the decidedly angular facial features and bold lines which are characteristic of the Teotihuacan style. Incense and other materials were burned as food for the gods, as it was believed that the deities could only consume substances that were burned and offered to them in the form of smoke that flowed upward toward the celestial realm.
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Repaired from multiple pieces. Losses to adornos including roundel behind one owl and ear of the other owl as well as peripheries of others. Expected nicks and abrasions to