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Standing Figure

Olmec, Middle Preclassic
900 BCE - 300 BCE
23.81 cm x 12.07 cm x 8.26 cm (9 3/8 in. x 4 3/4 in. x 3 1/4 in.)

On view


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This was the first Pre-Columbian object acquired by Robert Woods Bliss. Its striking power ignited his imagination, serving as what he later called the “microbe” that inspired the creation of the Dumbarton Oaks Pre-Columbian Collection. Its sheer visual power set the tone for the collection: the criterion was to be aesthetic quality, rather than anthropological curiosities. As such, the Blisses amassed the first collection of Pre-Columbian objects to be shown as art.

Purchased in 1914, this figure was initially identified as Aztec. Many years later the Olmec culture was identified archaeologically, and this piece was identified as relevant to this early Mesoamerican civilization. The standing male figure has an elongated head, a feature characteristic of Olmec art. His legs are slightly bent, and his arms project forward, bent slightly at the elbows. His hands, whose fingers are depicted by fine incised lines, may have once grasped objects, as perforations (made by two bi-conical drill holes) would have allowed for the inclusion of staves or other objects, perhaps of perishable materials. Incisions also delineate the figurine’s toes and buttocks; the earlobes are pierced and details such as teeth and nostrils are delicately carved into the hard stone. A celt-shaped object, carved in low relief, may represent a loincloth.

Alcina Franch, José 1979 Die Kunst Des Alten Amerika. Grosse Epochen Der Weltkunst. Ars Antiqua. Herder, Freiburg. pl. 30, fig. 222.

Alcina Franch, José 1983 Pre-Columbian Art. Abrams, New York. pl. 30, fig. 222.

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. 6, cat. 25.

Benson, Elizabeth P. 1981 Some Olmec Objects in the Robert Woods Bliss Collection at Dumbarton Oaks. In The Olmec and Their Neighbors: Essays in Memory of Matthew W. Stirling, Elizabeth P. Benson, ed., pp. 95-108. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 95-98, fig. 1, 2.

Benson, Elizabeth P. 1993 The Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art: A Memoir. In Collecting the Pre-Columbian Past: A Symposium at Dumbarton Oaks, 6th and 7th October 1990, Elizabeth H. Boone, ed., pp. 15-34. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 19, fig. 2.

Benson, Elizabeth P. and Beatriz de la Fuente (EDS.) 1996 Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., p. 206, cat. 44.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1947 Indigenous Art of the Americas: Collection of Robert Woods Bliss. National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., p. 27, cat. 129.

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. 233, cat. 8, pl. II.

Bliss, Robert W. 1959 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. 2nd ed. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, London. p. 241, cat. 8, pl. II.

Boone, Elizabeth Hill (ED.) 1996 Andean Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks ; No. 1 1. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 4, fig. 2.

Bühl, Gudrun (ED.) 2008 Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections. Published by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 232-3.

Caso, Alfonso, Manuel Toussaint, Roberto Montenegro and Miguel Covarrubias 1940 Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art. The Museum of Modern Art in collaboration with the Mexican Government, New York.

Christensen, Erwin Ottomar 1955 Primitive Art. Bonanza Books, New York. p. 186, 194, pl. 16.

Coe, Michael D. 1965 The Olmec Style and Its Distributions. In Handbook of Middle American Indians; Vols. 2-3: Archaeology of Southern Mesoamerica, Gordon Randolph Willey, ed. University of Texas Press, Austin. p. 742, fig. 6.

Coe, Michael D. 1996 The Olmec World: Ritual and Rulership. Art Museum, Princeton University, Princeton. p. 151, fig. 1, 2.

Covarrubias, Miguel 1946 Mexico South, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. 1st ed. A. A. Knopf, New York. pl. 12.

de la Fuente, Beatriz 1977 Pequeña Obra Maestra De La Escultura Olmeca. Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. (47). p. 7, fig. 6, 7.

Diehl, Richard A. 2000 The Precolumbian Cultures of the Gulf Coast. In The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas; Vol. 2: Mesoamerica, Richard E. W. Adams and Murdo J. MacLeod, eds. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. p. 164-166, fig. 4.2.

Diehl, Richard A. 2004 The Olmecs: America's First Civilization. Ancient Peoples and Places; Vol. 112. Thames & Hudson, London. p. 142, pl. XVII.

Fabbri, Dino and Nicolás J. Gibelli 1965 El Arte En América Precolombina, En África Y En Oceanía. Arte/Rama; 9. Editorial Codex S. A., Buenos Aires. p. 36.

González Calderón, O. L. 1991 The Jade Lords. O.L. González Calderón, Coatzacoalcos, Ver., pl. 383, 422.

Gump, Richard 1962 Jade: Stone of Heaven. Doubleday & Company, Garden City. p. 196.

Jaques, Susan 2012 A Love for the Beautiful: Discovering America's Hidden Art Museums. First ed. Globe Pequot Press, Guilford. p. 6.

Jones, Julie 2010 From the National Gallery of Art to Ritual Sacrifice in Ancient Peru. In Adventures in Pre-Columbian Studies: Essays in Honor of Elizabeth P. Benson, Julie Jones, ed., pp. 23-48. Pre-Columbian Society of Washington D.C., Washington, D.C., p. 25, fig. 3.

Kelemen, Pál 1943 Medieval American Art, a Survey in Two Volumes. 2 vols. Macmillan, New York. p. 305-306, pl. 252c,d.

Liljevalchs konsthall 1952 Mexikansk Konst Från Forntid Till Nutid. Katalog; Nr. 201. Liljevalchs konsthall, Stockholm. cat. 665a.

Linné, Sigvald 1956 Treasures of Mexican Art; Two Thousand Years of Art and Art Handicraft. Nordisk Rotogravyr, Stockholm. p. 49.

Musée National d'Art Moderne 1952 Art Mexicain Du Précolombien À Nos Jours. 2 ed. Presses artistiques, Paris. cat. 120.

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology 1940 An Exhibition of Pre-Columbian Art. January 15 through February 10, Arranged by the Peabody Museum and the William Hayes Fogg Art Museum. William Hayes Fogg Art Museum Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., cat. 155.

Pleasants, Frederick R. 1940 Pre-Columbian Art at the Fogg. Magazine of Art 33 (2). p. 89.

Ries, Maurice Ruddell (ED.) 1942 Ancient American Art, 500 B.C.-A.D. 1500; the Catalog of an Exhibit of the Art of the Pre-European Americas, April-June 1942, Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara. cat. 115.

Stirling, Matthew W. 1961 The Olmecs, Artists in Jade. In Essays in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology, Samuel Kirkland Lothrop and et al., eds. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., p. 55, fig. 7.

Stirling, Matthew Williams, Michael D. Coe, David C. Grove and Elizabeth P. Benson 1981 The Olmec & Their Neighbors: Essays in Memory of Matthew W. Stirling. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 96, fig. 1, 2.

Taft Museum 1950 Ancient American Gold and Jade: An Exhibition. Taft Museum, Cincinnati. cat. 15.

Taube, Karl A. 1996 The Olmec Maize God: The Face of Corn in Formative Mesoamerica. Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics 29/30:39-81. fig. 14d.

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. 67-73, pl. 8.

Willey, Gordon Randolph 1966 An Introduction to American Archaeology. Prentice-Hall Anthropology Series. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., p. 101, fig. 3.28c.

Exhibition History
"An Exhibition of Pre-Columbian Art", Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, MA, 1/15 - 3/2/1940 (catalogue # 155).

"Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art", Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, 5/15 - 9/30/1940.

"Ancient American Art", Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA, April - June 1942; M. H. De Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA, July - August 1942; Portland Museum of Art, Portland, OR, September - October 1942 (catalogue # 115).

"Ancient American Gold and Jade", Taft Museum, Cincinnati, OH, 10/6 - 11/19/1950.

"Art méxicain du précolombien à nos jours", Musée National d 'art Moderne, Paris, France, 5/9 - 7/30/1952 (catalogue # 120).

"Mexikansk Konst fran Forntid till Nutid", Liljevalchs Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden, 1952 (catalogue 665a).

"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, April 1947 to March 1952, January 1954 to July 1962.

"Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 6/30 - 10/20/1996.

"The Collector's Microbe: Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss and the Dumbarton Oaks Collections," Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, 4/9 - 9/9/2008.

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

"75 Years/75 Objects", Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC, 09/08/2015 - 05/22/2016.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Joseph Brummer, Paris (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, April 14,1914.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1914-1962.

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

Anthropomorphic | Olmecs