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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Colima Dogs : Colima Vessel in the Form of a Standing Dog
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Colima Vessel in the Form of a Standing Dog - PF.2442
Origin: Western Mexico
Circa: 300 BC to 300 AD
Dimensions: 9.25" (23.5cm) high x 6.5" (16.5cm) wide
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Medium: Terracotta


Location: United States
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Description
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.

Portrayed with exceptional realism, this canine was created as a burial object, its function to accompany the deceased on his or her long journey to the afterlife, the dog's spirit acting as both guide and guard. This particular breed of ancient canine is known as the Mexican hairless, its wrinkled gray skin the color of stone giving it the ancient name of Techichi (Tetl meaning 'stone,' Chichi meaning 'dog'). Poised on all fours with spout-shaped tail upright, ears perked and mouth open, this Techichi appears to be suspended in motion. One can almost see his ever-alert ears twitching and hear his high- pitched bark, as he attentively guides his master through the journey to the afterlife, the visible teeth further enhancing his protective nature. A stunning example of Colima artistry, this sculpted canine expresses most ardently an ancient people's extreme regard for, and intimate relationship with the natural world that surrounded them. Today, the spirit of this canine most certainly lives on--we need only gaze into the face of this Techichi to experience its age- old guardian powers. - (PF.2442)

 

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