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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Colima Art : Colima Sculpture of a Mother and her Children
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Colima Sculpture of a Mother and her Children - PF.2422
Origin: Western Mexico
Circa: 300 BC to 100 BC
Dimensions: 5.5" (14.0cm) high
Catalogue: V8
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Style: Colima
Medium: Terracotta

Location: UAE
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The Colima are part of a group of archaeological cultures – known almost purely from their artworks – referred to as the Western Mexico Shaft Tomb (WMST) tradition. There are many distinct groups within this agglomeration, and their relationships are almost totally obscure due to the lack of contextual information.

All of the cultures encompassed under the WMST 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 urbanization, they developed very much in isolation, and it behooves us to learn what we can from what they have left behind.

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. More abstract pieces – such as reclinatorios – probably had a more esoteric meaning that is hard to recapture from the piece.

The current piece falls within the Colima style, which is perhaps the most unusual stylistic subgroup of this region. Characterized by a warm, red glaze, the figures are very measured and conservative, while at the same time displaying a great competence of line. They are famous for their sculptures of obese dogs, which seem to have been fattened for the table. Colima reclinatorios are also remarkable, curvilinear yet geometric assemblages of intersecting planes and enigmatic constructions in the semi- abstract.

Utterly charming in its compositional rendering and spirited emotions, this clay mother-and- children grouping represents one of the most exciting Pre-Columbian art styles of Ancient Mexico. Created by an artisan of the pacific coast of Mexico, an area that lies in the shadow of the 13,000-foot-high volcano, "Colima," this sculpture reveals not only a culture's deep warmth and sensitivity to the human condition but also an acute awareness of complex design concepts. In this extraordinary sculpture a large number of children of varying sizes cluster around a seated mother, whose arms appear not only to embrace each child but the entire Universe as well. Adding to the composition's wonderful sense of balance and proportion, a large child rides "piggy-back" upon the shoulders of the mother, the child's hands grasping the mother's ears. If we look closely and listen carefully, we can almost see the kinetic movement of little arms and legs and hear the sounds of a dozen or more giggling children, as they enjoy the love of their mother and the friendship of each other. - (PF.2422)


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