COLLECTION D'UN GRAND AMATEUR
Post Lot Text
VERACRUZ STONE EFFIGY YOKE
CLASSIC, CA. A.D. 450-650
Deeply carved in the front with the head of snake, possibly a Boa constrictor, the broad face with large, elliptical, eyes incised with inverted "L" as pupils, flattened snout with nostrils, indicating the heat sensors, gaping mouth with bared tongue, the sides carved with stylized jaguar legs in a crouching pose, with the left side further carved with a relief of a half-length human skeletal figure with ribs demarcated, the right side with a frontal view of a skull; in finely polished green speckled metadiorite, with extensive remains of cinnabar.
Dr. Charles Maillant, Neuilly.
Acquired in the 1940s and then by descent to the present owner. Dr. Maillant was a well-known physician and impassioned collector of Antiquities, Medieval, African and Pre-Columbian art whose collection was prominently exhibited in 1960 in Paris under the title, Resonances des Arts Primitifs.
For a related yoke with identical skeletal iconography in The Brooklyn Museum, see Ulama, fig. 58. Such 'death' imagery is depicted on a distinct group of yokes and hachas. Here the half-length skeleton might be a personification of Death, see Sport of Life and Death, p.260.
The incised skull might hearken to the skulls that are often seen embossed within the rubber balls in ballgame depictions, as seen in the reliefs in the ball court at Chichén Itzá, see Sport of Life and Death, p. 45, 72 and for such a frontal skull molded on a ball, see ibid, fig. 34, such skulls might refer to an episode in the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Maya, in which the head of the Hero Twin Huhahpu was used instead of the rubber ball.
The ballgame, know as ollamaliztli in Nahuatl, was one of the most widespread rituals of Mesoamerica-said to have originated with the Olmec and chronicled by the Conquistadors as they encountered the Aztecs who played it for a more recreational purpose. Over the centuries, perhaps as many as 400 ballgame courts identified within the Gulf Coast and Maya region. The ballgame might possibly have originated in the Veracruz heartland in the Preclassic period where latex rubber (which the ball was composed of), was first developed. Numerous Preclassic and later Veracruz figurines (fig. 1) from the central Mexican Highlands wearing ballgame costume, also point to an early origin in this region.
The Maya and probably the Veracruz version of the game was played in formal masonry courts, usually of I-shaped form, and located near the most sacred areas of the city. While the rules and number of players varied, seemingly points were made by keeping the dense balls aloft and successfully hitting stone markers set along the ball court walls or end zones. Teams ranged from two to four players (fig. 2). Surviving ballgame paraphernalia include stone yokes, palmas and hachas. Elite players were elaborately attired in protective clothing including a wood or wicker U-shaped yoke worn high on the chest. Such stone versions of yokes were probably created for funerary and commemorative purposes.
The ballgame served many functions to the ancient Mesoamericans-the ball court itself was a carefully circumscribed sacred space and an entrance to the spirit world. Political rivalries were settled in certain ballgame contests which ended in sacrifice by decapitation. From Maya ceramics with ballgame scenes to such Veracruz stone prototypes of ballgame accoutrements there is "...a vibrancy rarely seen in ancient works of art-in part because what we see goes beyond what is represented, and because an anticipated rebirth is inherent in death itself." (Sport of Life, p. 87)