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Standing Figurine

Olmec, Middle Preclassic
900 BCE - 300 BCE
8.1 cm x 4.4 cm x 2 cm (3 3/16 in. x 1 3/4 in. x 13/16 in.)

Not on view


Like many Olmec greenstone statuettes, this compact figure was probably carved from a stone celt, with the thick poll corresponding to the region of the head. The position of the arms is quite like another standing jadeite figure in the Dumbarton Oaks collection (PC.B.014), which probably also derived from a celt. Like the larger jadeite sculpture, the hands and forearms of this statuette project outward, possibly to indicate dance. However, due to the shortness of the limbs, the hands extend to little more than the tip of the nose, and in this regard the figure corresponds more closely to the original proportions of the celt.

As in the case of the serpentine head in the collection (PC.B.535), this statuette was manufactured from serpentine with black, metallic inclusions. This sculpture is also considerably oxidized from burial, and now has a soft, whitish-green patination. The oxidized patination continues under the base of the broken legs, indicating that the figure was probably damaged in antiquity. Red coloration adhering in the facial region has been determined by Paul Jett to be ferruginous red earth. The earlobes and septum were pierced by drills that were also used to fashion the corners of the mouth. Fine line incision was employed to carve the four cleft motifs on the upper arms and thighs, as well as the hair on the right side of the head. Many of these lines were created by a single cut, indicating a very sharp tool of crystal, obsidian, or some other hard stone. When viewed from the right side, it can be seen that the shock of hair has a part that curves from the top of the head down to near the top of the right ear.

The partly shaved head displays the typical cylindrical cranial modification commonly found among Middle Formative La Venta jade and serpentine statuettes. The figure is somewhat rotund, as can be seen by his slightly swelling belly and the pair of fleshy creases on each forearm. According to information supplied at the time of its acquisition, the figure was said to be discovered at La Venta .

Benson, Elizabeth P. 1969 Supplement to the Handbook of the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D. C., cat. 428.

Coe, Michael D. 1967 An Olmec Serpentine Figurine at Dumbarton Oaks. American Antiquity 32 (1):111-113.

González Calderón, O. L. 1991 The Jade Lords. O.L. González Calderón, Coatzacoalcos, Ver., pl. 423.

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. 91b.

Taube, Karl A. 1996 The Olmec Maize God: The Face of Corn in Formative Mesoamerica. Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics 29/30:39-81. fig. 9b.

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. 74-77, pl. 10.

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

Acquisition History
Purchased from Everett Rassiga, Dallas (dealer), by Dumbarton Oaks, 1965.

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

Anthropomorphic | Olmecs