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Transformation Figure in Combat Stance

Olmec, Middle Preclassic
900 BCE - 300 BCE
7.9 x 4.4 x 2.9 cm (3 1/8 x 1 3/4 x 1 1/8 in.)

On view


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The figure is in a combat stance, facing to the left with the left leg forward and the right arm pulled back in a striking position. Both hands are drilled, indicating that a weapon or other object was held in the left hand as well as the right. The object shows an entirely feline head and a long, curling tail; nonetheless, it still is in an essentially human, bipedal stance and displays paw-like hands clenched in human fashion with thumbs that slightly cover the ends of the second digits. A considerable amount of cinnabar staining still adheres to the surface, particularly in the more recessed areas, such as the mouth, ears, inner arms, and groin. Along with drilled holes to indicate the nostrils, small and carefully drilled pits mark the spaces between the fingers and toes. A series of curving incised lines delineate the fingers from the backs of the hands, and the rear paws of this figure are marked with a trefoil-like device denoting the pads of feline paws. As in other Olmec examples of serpentine Transformation Figures, minute disks of polished iron pyrite serve as the eyes of the jaguar face.

Alcina Franch, José 1983 Pre-Columbian Art. Abrams, New York. fig. 224.

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. 5-6, cat. 20.

Benson, Elizabeth P. and Beatriz de la Fuente (EDS.) 1996 Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., p. 229, fig. 71.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1957 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. Text and Critical Analyses by Samuel K. Lothrop, William F. Foshag, and Joy Mahler. Phaidon, New York. p. 234, cat. 11, pl. V.

Carnine, Douglas, Carlos Cortes, Kenneth Curtis and Anita Robinson 2006 World History: Ancient Civilizations. (Textbook, Grade 6). McDougal Littell, Houghton Mifflin Co., Evanston, IL p. 303.

Coe, Michael D. 1996 The Olmec World: Ritual and Rulership. Art Museum, Princeton University, Princeton. p. 176, fig. 1.

Furst, Peter T. 1968 The Olmec Were-Jaguar Motif in the Light of Ethnographic Reality. In Dumbarton Oaks Conference on the Olmec, Elizabeth p. Benson ed., pp. 143-174. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington DC., p 146, fig. 1

González Calderón, O. L. 1991 The Jade Lords. O.L. González Calderón, Coatzacoalcos, Ver., pl. 233.

Gutiérrez Mendoza, Gerardo and Mary E. Pye 2010 Iconography of the Nahual: Human-Animal Transformations in Preclassic Guerrero and Morelos. In The Place of Stone Monuments: Context, Use, and Meaning in Mesoamerica's Preclassic Transition, Julia Guernsey, John E. Clark and Bárbara Arroyo, eds., pp. 27-54. Dumbarton Oaks Pre-Columbian Symposia and Colloquia, Joanne Pillsbury, general editor. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 28, fig. 2.1(c).

Headrick, Annabeth 2007 The Teotihuacan Trinity: The Sociopolitical Structure of an Ancient Mesoamerican City. University of Texas Press, Austin. p. 77, fig. 4.7.

Kubler, George 1962 The Art and Architecture of Ancient America; the Mexican, Maya, and Andean Peoples. The Pelican History of Art, Z21. Penguin Books, Baltimore. p. 70.

Magni, Caterina 2003 Les Olmèques: Des Origines Au Mythe. Seuil, Paris. p. 193, pl. 3.

National Wildlife Federation. 1987 Kingdom of Cats. National Wildlife Federation, Vienna, Va., p. 71.

Reilly, Frank Kent, III 1989 The Shaman in Transformation Pose: A Study of the Theme of Rulership in Olmec Art. Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University 48 (2):4-21. fig. 16c.

Saunders, Nicholas J. 1989 People of the Jaguar: The Living Spirit of Ancient America. Souvenir Press, London. p. 71-2.

Soustelle, Jacques 1967 Mexico. Archaeologia Mundi. Nagel, Geneva. p. 49, fig. 35.

Soustelle, Jacques 1979 Les Olmèques : La Plus Ancienne Civilisation Du Mexique. Arthaud, Paris. pl. 51.

Soustelle, Jacques 1984 The Olmecs : The Oldest Civilization in Mexico. Doubleday, Garden City. p. 127.

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. 65-7, pl. 7.

Times Books (Firm) 1988 Past Worlds: The Times Atlas of Archaeology. Hammond, Maplewood, N.J., p. 215.

Exhibition History
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, January 1956 to July 1962.

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

Acquisition History
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1954.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1954-1962.

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

Anthropomorphic | Felines | Olmecs