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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Mezcala Art : Large Mezcala Stone Standing Figure
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Large Mezcala Stone Standing Figure - JL.012
Origin: Mexico
Circa: 300 BC to 300 AD
Dimensions: 23" (58.4cm) high
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Style: Mezcala
Medium: Carved Stone
Condition: Extra Fine


Location: Great Britain
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Description

For humans death lies at the limit of comprehension. Irrespective of culture humans have always used their art as a way of coming to to terms with this archetypal moment of uncertainty through art. As famous Mezcala collector (and Nobel Prize-winning scientist) Ilya Prigogine famously said  "The future is uncertain; but this uncertainty is at the very heart of human creativity."

Mezcala is the conventional name attributed to a Mesoamerican culture that was based in what is today the federal state of Guerrero in southwestern Mexico. We know very little about this culture. What we do know is largely due to the way they chose to bury their dead. The dead were accompanied into the abyss by these extraordinary stone carvings. Without metal tooling the figures would have been laboriously carved over hundreds of hours using only twine and stone. These idols have emerged from a lost civilisation that we know almost nothing about yet they show something harrowingly human - the inspirationally fraught, and often laborious, coming to terms with uncertainty.

Mezcala culture sculptures are generally characterised by a tendency to be abstract, a style characterised by the simplicity of design and details suggested by lines and differences in texture. The sculptural style of the Mezcala culture was skilfully rendered with straight cuts and tends to be using mostly geometric forms, and their highly- stylized and refined craftsmanship has led them to be compared to the equally well-polished Cycladic figures. In all probability the Mezcala sculptures have been influenced by the Olmec style and vice- versa, the Mezcala culture has obviously had a significant impact to the evolution of sculpture at the Classic-period metropolis of Teotihuacan in the Valley of Mexico.

The smooth and extremely polished figure, almost with certainty belonging to a male, is presented assuming a hieratic posture of bold simplicity, carved with a minimalistic quality that evokes modern abstraction, accentuated by the long arms and the rather large head, with prominent browns, sunken eye and open mouth. The sloping cheek planes meet at the centre of the face to form a vertical ridge suggesting the nose. The torso of this piece is almost architectonic in it’s realisation - alluding to other primary preoccupation of Mezacala carving. Carved with a minimalistic quality often mimicked by modern abstraction and minimalism, accentuated by the elegant arms and the rather large head, with prominent browns, sunken eye and open mouth.

The Mezcala figures are incredibly enigmatic and historically have drawn people in. Mezcala sculptures found as dedicatory offerings at the Aztec complex of Tenochtitlan. Henry Moore, collected the figures and placed them on his tables and windowsills of his studio. Later the pieces were paired with abstract- expressionist paintings in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s. Then the famed physical chemist, Nobel laureate, and father of ‘chaos theory’, Ilya Prigogine collected them. Perhaps what generations of people recognise in these figures is a simultaneous sense of connection and dissolution. Irrespective of context a Mezcala figure seems to broadcasts the complex uncertainty which lies at the core of humanity.  In the end we all have the same questions: We stare at the sky, into the darkness, and wonder where we came from, what our purpose is, and what might happen when we are gone. What we see in Mezcala idols is a culture that is peering into the abyss and we peer back — this is a coming to terms with uncertainty.


Although the information relative to this culture is neither numerous nor profound, it is believed to have developed during the Middle and Late Pre- Classic Mesoamerican periods, roughly between 700 and 200 BC. The culture continued undiminished into the Classic Mesoamerican Period, circa 250 to 650 AD, coexisting and developing parallel to the great metropolis of Teotihuacan in the north. What Archaeologists have been able to study the culture through a limited number of scientific excavations and through the study of Mezcala sculptures found as dedicatory offerings at the Aztec complex of Tenochtitlan. The influence of Teotihuacan influence is more than pervasive in the Mezcala region, whereas at the same time there has also been some considerable influence from the Mezcala culture to the valley of Teotihuacan. The Aztecs, although appearing in the area at a much later date, obviously showed great reverence to the Mezcala sculptures which they found and a great group of them was found among the dedicatory offerings excavated at the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan, built in the 14th and 15th centuries AD.

- (JL.012)

 

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