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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Pre-Columbian Masterpieces : Toltec Plumbate Vessel with a Sculpted Head
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Toltec Plumbate Vessel with a Sculpted Head - PF.6276
Origin: Soconusco, Guatemala
Circa: 1000 AD to 1200 AD
Dimensions: 7.25" (18.4cm) high
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Medium: Plumbate

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The Toltec civilization first gained ascendany in the Vallery 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 impecible as the ruins of Tula demonstrate. This 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 hero-god Quetzalcoatl.

Pottery vessels of this type with their distinctive orange hues and shiney surfaces are known as plumbate-ware. During the height of the Toltec civilization, plumate 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. Plumate was so desirable in part because it maintains an exceptional hardness that can be scarcely scratched with steel.

This cylindrical plumbate vessel has retained its beautiful orange hue and sculptural detail, which inlcudes a prominent head that emerges from the side. Featuring deeply incised circular eyes, a fringe beard, and tasseled earrings, this face, although it may appear to be the head of a human, can be recognized as the visage of the mighty rain god, Tlaloc. Tlaloc was one of the most important gods of the ancient Pre-Columbian pantheon who worshipped from Mexico to Costa Rica. Such a vessel, honoring this powerful deity, would have likely served a ceremonial purpose. Perhaps Toltec priests once drank from this vessel while standing high atop a pyramid in a temple dedicated to Tlaloc. - (PF.6276)


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