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PROVENANT D'UNE COLLECTION D'OUTRE ATLANTIQUE
Post Lot Text
OLMEC STONE MASK
MIDDLE PRECLASSIC, CA. 900-600 B.C.
The carefully sculpted, idealized face with a commanding expression, with classic downward-curving mouth, lips parted revealing upper gum and row of teeth, aquiline nose, soft cheeks swelling at the lower lids, recessed eyes with sunken and arched upper brows, narrow, rectangular ears and cleft-like notch at the top of the head, finely incised on one side of the face with the frontal image of a were-jaguar style "Olmec dragon" with cleft head, upturned eyes and circular pupils, a medallion on the cheek, and a further medallion and straight band descending down the cheek, the other half incised with the profile head of another were-jaguar creature ; in cream colored stone, possibly altered jadeite, the incised areas filled with red pigment, a pair of holes drilled at the top of the mask for suspension.
During the Middle Formative period, Olmec sculptors made mask pendants of jade, serpentine and other hard stones large enough to be worn. The smaller examples were drilled for suspension and probably worn as pendants around the neck or used as ornaments in headdresses.
Among the Mesoamerican civilizations, the Olmec were the first to develop a symbolic artistic vocabulary to communicate their vision of their world view and to create powerful images of their supernatural deities and shamans.
The anthropomorphic creatures that are an important element in Olmec art are fantastic zoomorphs such as the Olmec Dragon. The other principal character of the supernatural world is the 'were-jaguar' characterized by slanted almond-shaped eyes, cleft head, and a down-turned, toothless mouth with flared upper lip and broad nose helping to create the jaguar effect. As in the mask here, the 'were-jaguar'is the most often represented image on Olmec portable objects. The extraordinary fusion of a human and a jaguar has led to many interpretations, yet the choice of the jaguar, the most powerful predator of the tropical rain forest is understandable, the human side is perhaps associated with dwarflike creatures. The infant were-jaguar might invoke the elemental forces associated with rain and maize.
Olmec art may be characterized as more sculptural and iconic than that of the later Maya who seem preoccupied with a more pictorial and narrative style. The Olmec developed a more abstract, symbol-ridden art where the theme of transformation and the mysteries of the supernatural world were brought to the fore.