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Carved of soft talc, this statuette has a rich brown patina, presenting an appearance of carved wood. The sculpture portrays a chinless dwarf in a crouching position. Because the legs have strongly planar angles, they are somewhat difficult to interpret at first glance. The lower legs are encircled by a pair of large, segmented anklets, with the exception of the elaborate anklets; the talc figure is nude and appears to be male. Drilled perforations through the earlobes and septum, however, indicate that the figure originally may have been supplied with jewelry. In spite of his corpulent abdomen, the figure has withered limbs and clearly delineated shoulder blades. This combination of a swollen belly with wasted physiognomy often occurs in Olmec representations of old women. Although not female, this statuette probably portrays an aged dwarf.
The crouching chinless dwarf is a well-known motif in Middle Formative Olmec art, and usually is found in the form of small, portable sculptures. The squatting stance and frequently upturned head suggest a posture of attendant supplication, a seemingly appropriate position for dwarfs in royal courtly life. The dwarfs rarely carry objects in their arms, which are often crossed over their chests or raised with the hands near the side of the head. The squatting position, hunched over back, and upturned head of the sculpture and many other examples of Olmec dwarf figures strongly suggest the physical act of raising or lowering the burden of a heavy tumpline. In two instances, the burden appears to be the dwarf’s overgrown head. It is quite possible that many of the crouching dwarf sculptures held miniature burdens slung by tumpline across the brow of the figure. Some sculpture portrays a squatting dwarf carrying a maize-filled sack by tumpline. Olmec dwarfs were probably identified with rain, lightning, and maize. Rather than simply being droll entertainers of the Olmec court, dwarfs were probably considered chosen beings having a special link to powers of rain and fertility.
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Vaillant, George Clapp 1949 Artists and Craftsmen in Ancient Central America. Man and Nature Publications. The American Museum of Natural History, New York City. p. 79.
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, September 1960 to April 1962.
"Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 6/30 - 10/20/1996.
Purchased from John A. Stokes Jr., New York (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1960.
Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1960-1962.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.