Pre-Columbian Art :
Toltec Art : Toltec Plumbate Head Effigy Vessel
Toltec Plumbate Head Effigy Vessel - PF.2374
Origin: Soconusco, Guatemala
3" (7.6cm) high
x 2.875" (7.3cm) wide
Location: United States
| Photo Gallery
The Toltec civilization first gained ascendany in
Valley of Mexico around 900 A.D., after the fall
of Teotihuacan. Although their origins and early
history are obscure, the Toltecs appear to have
ancient ties to both the Mixtec and the Zapotec.
The word Toltec means “master builders” in the
Nahuatl language, a testament to the
sophistication of Toltec constructions. Their art
and architecture was highly influenced by
Teotihuacan as well as the ancient Olmec culture.
The Toltecs were technologically advanced,
capable of smelting metals. Their stonework was
impeccable as the ruins of Tula demonstrate.
archaeological site is believed to be Tollan, the
legendary capital of the Toltec civilization
referred to in a number of postconquest sources.
Their social structure was headed by an elite
class of warriors. Excavation have uncovered the
ceremonial center that included a pyramid
structure topped by a temple dedicated to the
This stunning Toltec vessel, known as plumbate ware, is
distinguished by its attractive glassy luster, which was
produced by covering the vessel in a slip high in iron and
aluminum content and then firing the pot at high
temperatures. Greatly prized as a luxury item, plumbate
vessels such as this formed a unique component in the
repertoire of Mesoamerican art. During the height of the
Toltec civilization, plumbate works were produced at only
one place: on the Pacific slope of the Soconusco region in
modern Guatemala. Furthermore, the process by which it
was made seems to have been a closely guarded secret.
Such wares were highly valued throughout Mesoamerica and
were traded along commercial networks that extended as far
as Panama. Plumbate was so desirable in part because it
maintains an exceptional hardness that can be scarcely
scratched with steel.
With a sage-like face that addresses the world
through open mouth and slanted eyes, this
Toltec male head echoes the secrets of the
ancient culture that produced such a masterpiece
of expressiveness. A striking nose, so typical of
Toltec portraiture, is the focal point of a face
filled with timeless mystery. Ornamented ears,
an elaborate headband and a bearded chin frame
his venerated face, adding to its noble stature.
The leaded clay gives a delicate shine to this
small pot, its soft reflective light equally as
beautiful as it was so many centuries ago. How
fortunate we are that this gem of ancient Mayan
artistry is with us today, stimulating our
imagination and warming our hearts.