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Olmec, Middle Preclassic
900 BCE - 300 BCE
21.59 cm x 8.57 cm x 4.13 cm (8 1/2 in. x 3 3/8 in. x 1 5/8 in.)

On view


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This celt is attributed to Rancho Portrerillos, in the vicinity of El Mangal, Veracruz. Such fine jadeite celt must have been item of great wealth in Middle Formative Olmec society. Although of different sizes, this and another jadeite celt in the collection (PC.B.28) are similar in workmanship and in the color and quality of the stone, and they may well have derived from the same cache or burial. Both celts are well fashioned and highly polished, with fine, sharp-edged bits, allowing for the ready appreciation of the color and translucency of the jade.

This piece is an especially massive example, with a weight of some 1.8 kilograms. A great deal of effort was clearly spent in the final stages of grinding and polishing, and there are only small portions of bruised stone from pecking. It function, although maybe ritual, is uncertain.

Benson, Elizabeth P. 1963 Handbook of the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 8, cat. 38.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1957 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, New York. p. 235, cat. 17, pl. IX.

Eggebrecht, Arne 1986 Glanz Und Untergang Des Alten Mexico : Die Azteken Und Ihre Vorläufer. P. von Zabern, Mainz am Rhein. fig. 3.

Saunders, Nicholas J. 2003 "Catching the Light": Technologies of Power and Enchantment in Pre-Columbian Goldworking. In Gold and Power in Ancient Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia: A Symposium at Dumbarton Oaks, 9 and 10 October 1999, Jeffrey Quilter and John W. Hoopes, eds., pp. 15-47. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections, Washington, D.C.

Summers, David 2003 Real Spaces: World Art History and the Rise of Western Modernism. Phaidon Press, New York.

Summers, David 2006 World Art History and the Rise of Western Modernism, Or: Goodbye to the Visual Arts. In Compression Vs Expression: Containing and Explaining the World's Art, John Onians, ed., pp. 215-234. Clark Studies in the Visual Arts Series. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, London.

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. 130-2, pl. 22.

Exhibition History
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, May 1948 to July 1949, November 1952 to July 1962.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1948.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1948-1962.

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

Olmecs | Ritual