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Fragmentary Figure

Olmec, Middle Preclassic
900 BCE - 300 BCE
7.62 cm x 5.08 cm x 3.81 cm (3 in. x 2 in. x 1 1/2 in.)

Not on view


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Carved from light blue, mottled jadeite, this incised figure was probably broken from a standing statuette. The outstretched position of the lower arms is quite like other Olmec standing figures in the Dumbarton Oaks collections. On the front of the sculpture, an apparently ancient break follows a horizontal broad line incision that seems to have delineated the belly. On the back side, however, the break is not so uniform and cuts in a diagonal fashion across the upper buttocks.

In contrast to other jadeite figures in the Dumbarton Oaks collection, there is relatively little attempt at subtle modeling and finishing. Instead, drill and saw marks are readily visible over much of the piece, endowing the figure with a rough, but also powerful quality. Solid core drills carved hollows in the upper arms, corners of the mouth, and nostrils, as well as the eyes, both of which were fashioned by three overlapping pits. Whereas the nasal septum is unpierced, both earlobes are biconically drilled. The fingers and, most notably, the face, are carved with fine line incision that delineates the upper teeth from the lip as well as two pairs of inwardly looking profiles on each side of the face. For these outer profile faces, the frontal half of each of the biconically drilled earlobes cleverly serves as eyes.

These rather schematic, outer faces commonly appear on cleft-headed figures, which I regard as forms of the Olmec Maize God. With their frequently cleft and back turning crania, the flanking profile heads probably represent maize foliation, much as the central face represents the ear of corn. It will be subsequently noted that the Dumbarton Oaks statuette also portrays the personified aspect of green growing corn.

Benson, Elizabeth P. 1971 An Olmec Figure at Dumbarton Oaks. Studies in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology; No. 8. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 36-37, figs. 44-46.

Niederberger, Christine 1987 Paléopaysages Et Archéologie Pré-Urbaine Du Bassin De México (Mexique). 1re éd. ed. Etudes Mésoaméricaines, V. 11. Centre d'études mexicaines et centraméricaines, México. fig. 92.

Taube, Karl A. 2004 Olmec Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks; No. 2. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 94-9, pl. 15.

Exhibition History
"Lasting Impressions: Body Art in the Ancient Americas" , Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, 10/1/2011 - 3/4/2012.

Acquisition History
Purchased by Dumbarton Oaks from Edward Merrin, New York (dealer), 1970.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.

Anthropomorphic | Olmecs