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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Pre-Columbian Masterpieces : Ameca-Ezatlán Style Jalisco Terracotta Sculpture of a Seated Man
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Ameca-Ezatlán Style Jalisco Terracotta Sculpture of a Seated Man - PF.2470 (LSO)
Origin: Jalisco, Mexico
Circa: 300 BC to 300 AD
Dimensions: 13.375" (34.0cm) high x 9.75" (24.8cm) wide
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Style: Ameca-Ezatlán
Medium: Terracotta

Location: UAE
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This imposing Jalisco seated figure of a warrior dates to just before or after the start of the first millennium AD, and pertains to a group of archaeological cultures – known almost purely from their artworks – referred to as the Western Mexico Shaft Tomb tradition. All of the cultures encompassed under this nomenclature were in the habit of burying their dead in socially- stratified burial chambers at the base of deep shafts, which were in turn often topped by buildings. Originally believed to be influenced by the Tarascan people, who were contemporaries of the Aztecs, thermoluminescence has pushed back the dates of these groups over 1000 years. Although the apogee of this tradition was reached in the last centuries of the 1st millennium BC, it has its origins over 1000 years earlier at sites such as Huitzilapa and Teuchitlan, in the Jalisco region. Little is known of the cultures themselves, although preliminary data seems to suggest that they were sedentary agriculturists with social systems not dissimilar to chiefdoms. These cultures are especially interesting to students of Mesoamerican history as they seem to have been to a large extent outside the ebb and flow of more aggressive cultures – such as the Toltecs, Olmecs and Maya – in the same vicinity. Thus insulated from the perils of urbanisation, it behoves us to learn what we can from what they have left behind, and of these remains, it is perhaps the art that is the most informative.

The arts of this region are enormously variable and hard to understand in chronological terms, mainly due to the lack of context. The most striking works are the ceramics, which were usually placed in graves, and do not seem to have performed any practical function, although highly decorated utilitarian vessels are also known. It is possible that they were designed to depict the deceased – they are often very naturalistic – although it is more probable that they constituted, when in groups, a retinue of companions, protectors and servants for the hereafter.

The current piece falls within the style known as the Ameca group, which is characterised by elongated faces, turban-like headwear, wide mouths, large hands, defined nails and staring eyes with elevated rims. The current piece is therefore a classic example of the tradition. Insofar as theme is concerned, the subject matter is likewise traditional. Just as in other sophisticated social systems around the world – such as the Egyptians or Dynastic China – figures were made to represent the sorts of people and resources that might be needed in the hereafter. They were in this sense symbolic of actual people, who were buried with the deceased as retainers in more sanguineous Central and Southern American societies. Seemingly supernatural figures are also known, presumably representing aspects of Jalisco cultural heritage (gods, spirits, ancestors, mythological figures etc) that are currently beyond our understanding, while maternity figures are also fairly well-known. Of all the groups, however, it is perhaps the warriors that are the most dramatic, and this is a prime example.

The figure is seated with hands resting on his knees, and appears to be in a stance of readiness. He is naked, except for two armbands around his biceps and two studded bands around his calves. These, along with the head, fingers and toes, are the only unpainted parts of the figure. The hands and the feet are splayed, and thus wide and spatulate, with the nails clearly incised. The upper torso is likewise separated from the midriff by incised lines. The head is topped by a simple hat, and was once decorated with black pigment that also marks the edge of his hairline and his eyebrows. The head is domed, the eyes staring and bulbous. This expression, and the open mouth displaying the teeth, conspires to lend an air of aggression and readiness that is amusingly countermanded by his large, protuberant ears. This is a beautifully made and conceived piece of ceramic sculpture. - (PF.2470 (LSO))


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