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Standing Figure

Olmec, Middle Preclassic
900 BCE - 300 BCE
8.57 cm x 3.49 cm x 2.86 cm (3 3/8 in. x 1 3/8 in. x 1 1/8 in.)

Not on view


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Fashioned from a fine, light blue jadeite, this statuette conveys some of the more noteworthy conventions of Olmec art and lapidary. The narrowed eyes and almost grimacing mouth are well-known traits of the Olmec style, and are especially common with "baby" figures. Among the infantile qualities displayed by this figure are its relatively large head and thick, short limbs and the curving lines at the elbows, wrists, and bridge of the nose, which suggest creases in plump, fleshy skin.

Along with infantile qualities, the sculpture resembles a personified celt, another common convention of Middle Formative Olmec art, the head of this figure corresponds to the thick and blunt poll of the celt, with the feet in the area of the bladed edge. A deep groove separates the head of the statuette from the body, this horizontal groove continues across the back of the figure, which is also carved with a T-shaped channel of comparable width and depth to delineate the legs and the base of the buttocks. A horizontal series of incised fine lines cross the back to represent the heels, backs of the knees, shoulders, and headband. The lines of the shoulders, knees and headband continue around to the sides of the figure. The sides of the head also are marked with raised bands segmented by fine line incision. In comparison to the blocky and schematic back and sides, the front of the figure is far more three-dimensional, especially in the carving of the head. The section of the headband crossing the brow is a projecting band marked with incision, in contrast to the pair of simple fine lines marking the headband behind the earpieces. Solid core drills carved the nostrils and corners of the mouth, and subtle indentations along the edge of the open mouth suggest that much of this area was hollowed by drilling. Although often erroneously identified as toothless gums, the ridge below the large upper lip denotes the upper teeth, with the central pointed nubbin representing a projecting pair of incisors. The same central point appears on the large jadeite mask of the Olmec Maize God in the Dumbarton Oaks collection (PC.B.020) where the mouth element is divided by a vertical line. The eyes of the figure are markedly slanted, with the upper lids leaning considerably downward toward the interior of the face. Rather than being smoothly hollowed out, the eyes are carved by wedge-shaped grooves, suggesting that they were not inlaid. The chest is marked with a rectangular pectoral.

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. 26.

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. 100-101, fig. 5.

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. 4, pl. I.

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. 743, fig. 9.

Davies, Nigel 1983 The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico. Pelican Books. Penguin Books, New York. fig. 3.

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

González Calderón, O. L. 1991 The Jade Lords. O.L. González Calderón, Coatzacoalcos, Ver., pl. 489.

Hvidtfeldt, Arild 1987 Mexicos Kunst - Før Spanierne Kom. Louisiana Revy; 28. Årg. Nr.1. Louisiana Museum, Humlebæk. p. 6, fig. 4.

Joralemon, Peter David 1971 A Study of Olmec Iconography. Studies in Pre-Columbian Art & Archaeology, No. 7. Dumbarton Oaks Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., cat. 7, fig. 218.

Kelemen, Pál 1943 Medieval American Art, a Survey in Two Volumes. Macmillan, New York. p. 298, pl. 243.

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. 91a.

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. 88-93, pl. 14.

Willey, Gordon R. 1966 An Introduction to American Archaeology. Prentice-Hall Anthropology Series. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J. p. 101, fig. 3-28d.

Exhibition History
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, October 1949 to July 1962

"Die Azteken und ihre Vorlaufer: Glanz und Untergang des Alten Mexico", Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum, Hildesheim, Germany, 6/30 - 11/9/1986; Ausstellungsleitung Haus derKunst, Munich, Germany, 12/6/1986 - 3/6/1987; Ober'sterreichisches Landesmuseum, Linz, Austria 4/3 - 8/2/1987; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark, 8/15 - 11/30/1987; Musees Royaux d'Art et d'Historie, Brussels, Belgium, 12/1/1987 - 3/30/1988; National Archaeology Museum, Athens, Gerece, 5/16 - 7/21/1988; Société du Palais de la Civilisation, Montreal, Canada, 7/30 - 10/30/1988.

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

Acquisition History
Formerly in the collections of Joseph Brummer and Walter Baker.

Purchased from Vladimir G. Simkhovitch, New York (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.

Anthropomorphic | Olmecs