Crocodiles are prominent in the iconography of the Intermediate Area from the earliest times. In this vast, tropical area of what is now Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia, ancient peoples revered this extraordinary creature, depicting it in a naturalistic way or combining it with other zoomorphic and anthropomorphic features to represent supernatural beings. Twentieth-century ethnographies suggest that for some modern peoples in this area the crocodile is the hunter par excellence, and as a warrior, it is the aquatic symbol of strength and power, equivalent to eagles in the realm above and jaguars on the land.
This object, said to be from the Linea Vieja area on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, is made out of a finely polished piece of bluish translucent jadeite. Although crocodiles are relatively abundant subjects in ceramics and metalwork, they are comparatively rare in jadeite. Here the scales are represented by an incised grid pattern, echoed by the incisions on the jaw to represent dentition. The eyes are rendered as low-relief depressions, formed by reed drills. Portions of the rectangular stone were carved away to indicate the legs with additional incised details.
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. 38, cat. 200.
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. 263, cat. 199, pl. XCV.
Bliss, Robert Woods 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. 271, cat. 199, pl. XCV.
Bühl, Gudrun (ED.) 2008 Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections. Published by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 240-1.
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, July 1954 to July 1962.
Purchased from Carlos Balser by Robert Woods Bliss, August 6, 1953.
Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1953-1962.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.