- Museum number
Tetrapod bowl (with human face) made of pottery.
- Production date
- Curator's comments
- Blurton, 1997
A series of remarkable tombs, distributed in an approximate arc, extends across the mainly upland zones of the modern West Mexican states of Colima, Nayarit and Jalisco. The small village-based communities which constructed these unique mortuary complexes were largely ignored by early scholars due to the absence of the masonry architecture, monumental stone sculpture or written records which characterized other Mesoamerican civilizations. However, the technically accomplished deep shaft tombs with vaulted burial chambers and the associated wealth of ceramic mortuary offerings were indicative of a flourishing, yet independent, local culture with well-defined ritual practices concerned with the afterlife.
Although initially regarded by scholars as 'folk art' executed in simple village style, the majority of the large hollow figures, human and animal effigies, models and small solid figurines buried in these elaborate tombs appear to have been produced specifically for a mortuary context. The apparent concentration on the representation of scenes and activities drawn from daily life lent validity to the conviction that the motivation for their production was essentially anecdotal. However, several key activities such as weaving, carving, agricultural labour, hunting and house building are not represented.
There are several recurrent figurative types, albeit with local stylistic distinctions which appear in a number of tombs. These include acrobats, warriors, musicians, women with children, mourners and figures with artificial cranial deformations. Male and female couples appear frequently, as do elaborately detailed models depicting ball games, battle scenes, funeral processions and scenes of food preparation. The detailed depiction of costumes and personal ornaments on these pottery figures is of both ethnographic and iconographic significance. Although many of the figures, especially the women, appear to be naked, they invariably wear elaborate headgear and ornaments. Conical caps and brimmed hats are worn by men, while headbands are seen on both male and female figures. Worn in combination with armbands, necklaces and multiple earrings, it is possible that these accoutrements indicated status or allegiance. Several items of costume shown on the figures appear to be of local derivation, such as the short trousers worn by male figures, in preference to the loincloth seen throughout the rest of Mesoamerica; also, the distinctive patterned cloak worn diagonally across the chest and fastened by a strap over one shoulder, in contrast to the knotted mantle prevalent elsewhere. Women wear knee- or ankle-length wrap-around skirts. The detailed representation of textiles on these figures suggests that the art of weaving had achieved a remarkable degree of sophistication in the West Mexico region; unfortunately archaeological excavations have failed to reveal textile remains.
The vitality and force of the form of these ceramic sculptures is accentuated by the application of negative and positive slip colours. Texture is gained using the technique of incising. Such approaches to surface decoration were unique to West Mexico at this period.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1997 13 Oct-1998 5 Jan, India, New Delhi, National Museum, The Enduring Image
1998 9 Feb-3 May, India, Mumbai, Sir Caswasjee Jahangir Hall, The Enduring Image
- Acquisition date
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
CDMS number: Am1881C10.132 (old CDMS no.)