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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Colima Vessels : Colima Terracotta Zoomorphic Vessel
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Colima Terracotta Zoomorphic Vessel - PF.2446
Origin: Western Mexico
Circa: 100 BC to 250 AD
Dimensions: 5.25" (13.3cm) high x 9.25" (23.5cm) wide
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Medium: Terracotta

$2,500.00
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.

Colima artists were masters at modeling clay into shapes and forms that related intimately to the natural world around them, and here we see an animal whose body creatively forms the bowl of a vessel. While the animal's four legs support the vessel, a delightful head and tiny tail project from opposite ends of the pot. Finely etched geometric patterns wrap around the exterior portion of the bowl, adding a stimulating, tactile quality to the vessel. At the same time, the burnished interior surface creates an appealing visual element by softly reflecting the rays of light that touch the surface. Truly an extraordinary work of art, this anthropomorphic vessel most ardently expresses the Ancient Colima artists' supreme ability to combine form and function in a unique and pleasing fashion. - (PF.2446)

 

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