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Seated Figure

Olmec, Middle Preclassic
900 BCE - 300 BCE
9.84 cm x 6.67 cm x 5.72 cm (3 7/8 in. x 2 5/8 in. x 2 1/4 in.)

Not on view


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Although displaying clear Olmec conventions, this sculpture is unusual both in posture and physiognomy. The figure is hunched over, with his knees pulled up tightly against his shoulders. When viewed from the front, the legs create the impression of two staffs or rounds of wood. In addition to the curious pose, a hollow core drill was used to make a large cavity in the region of the abdomen. Extensive drilling in the areas between the ribs and hips has further hollowed out the sunken belly region. On the back of the figure, these hollowed areas continue around the elbows up to the armpits. Above the sunken abdomen, three pairs of diagonal lines delineate the ribs. On the back of the figure, three pairs of curving diagonal lines represent the shoulders and ribs while, below, a fourth pair of lines curves in an opposite direction to depict the upper portions of the bony hips. Broad line incisions on the base of the sculpture delineate the buttocks and feet.

Along with the bony and wasted body, the face of this bearded figure is drawn, with high cheekbones and sunken cheeks. But although he is of advanced years, there is nothing senile or infirm about his visage. Small drills carved the corner of the mouth and nostrils, which biconically pierce the septum. The hair of the goatee is marked with fine line incision. The ears are delineated by blocky, rectangular forms. The figure wears a headband marked with the Olmec "flame eyebrows" as well as a central roundel supporting a probable maize cob. At the central crown of the head, there is the well-known trefoil maize sign, which also appears atop another figure in the Dumbarton Oaks collection (PC.B.592).

Although old women are better documented in Olmec art, depictions of aged males also exist. Typically fashioned of hard, greenstone, the statuettes like this portray seated men touching their vertically placed knees with both hands frequently display signs of old age, including shrunken abdomens, prominent shoulder blades, and protruding brows and chins.

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. 7, cat. 29.

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. 103-104, fig. 7.

González Calderón, O. L. 1991 The Jade Lords. O.L. González Calderón, Coatzacoalcos, Ver., pl. 421.

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. 102-4, pl. 17.

Exhibition History
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washignton DC, June1958 to July 1962.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Helmut de Terra, New York (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1958.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1958-1962.

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

Anthropomorphic | Olmecs