Pre-Columbian Art :
Toltec Art : Toltec Human Effigy Vessel
Toltec Human Effigy Vessel - PF.1269
Origin: Soconusco, Guatemala
6.75" (17.1cm) high
x 6" (15.2cm) wide
Location: United States
| Photo Gallery
The Toltec civilization first gained ascendany in
Valley of Mexico around 900 A.D., after the fall
of Teotihuacan. Although their origins and early
history are obscure, the Toltecs appear to have
ancient ties to both the Mixtec and the Zapotec.
The word Toltec means “master builders” in the
Nahuatl language, a testament to the
sophistication of Toltec constructions. Their art
and architecture was highly influenced by
Teotihuacan as well as the ancient Olmec culture.
The Toltecs were technologically advanced,
capable of smelting metals. Their stonework was
impeccable as the ruins of Tula demonstrate.
archaeological site is believed to be Tollan, the
legendary capital of the Toltec civilization
referred to in a number of postconquest sources.
Their social structure was headed by an elite
class of warriors. Excavation have uncovered the
ceremonial center that included a pyramid
structure topped by a temple dedicated to the
This stunning Toltec vessel, known as plumbate ware, is
distinguished by its attractive glassy luster, which was
produced by covering the vessel in a slip high in iron
and aluminum content and then firing the pot at high
temperatures. Greatly prized as a luxury item, plumbate
vessels such as this formed a unique component in the
repertoire of Mesoamerican art. During the height of
the Toltec civilization, plumbate works were produced
at only one place: on the Pacific slope of the Soconusco
region in modern Guatemala. Furthermore, the process
by which it was made seems to have been a closely
guarded secret. Such wares were highly valued
throughout Mesoamerica and were traded along
commercial networks that extended as far as Panama.
Plumbate was so desirable in part because it maintains
an exceptional hardness that can be scarcely scratched
On one side of this elegant pot, the haughty
features of a man--perhaps a noble, a king, or a
god--protrude from the surface. His ears are
pierced in the aristocratic manner to hold
earrings which have vanished with time. This
gives him a very three-dimensional presence, a
personality that transcends the pot's function.
His features are in perfect harmony with the
vessel, they emerge organically from within. If he
were not so proud and aloof, we might expect
him to speak to us at any moment.