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Classic Veracruz, Late Classic
600-900 CE
25.08 cm x 7.62 cm x 16.19 cm (9 7/8 in. x 3 in. x 6 3/8 in.)

Not on view


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This small hacha is the first Pre-Columbian sculpture collected by Robert Bliss in 1913 and is most probably from the south central Gulf lowlands, perhaps from the higher elevations. The face has a distinctive, sharply bent, pug nose. The hollowed out eyes give the impression of squinting and are surrounded by a two-piece plaque without scrolls. The upper lip curls backwards, extending over the lower cheeks, and a ring-like ornament covers the center of the lip beneath the nostrils. The ears, without spools, terminate in a suspended curved pendant. On the head sits a helmet-like covering with serrated edges, topped by a peaked crest with a raised border.
The extended upper lip is associated with various forms of the rain god in the Gulf lowlands. The loop at the midpoint of the lip, probably a jade bead in profile, is a symbol of preciousness and life frequently placed with the dead. The ear pendants are a variant of the hooked epcololli (Nahuatl) form often worn by the sacrificed and also associated with the gods of the planet Venus and wind. The helmet is adorned with short blunt feathers, similar to the macaw motif.

The figure is consistent with portrayals of sacrificed ball game players who are dressed to impersonate various gods in the ball court. Although once probably polished, especially the face and helmet, the sculpture now exhibits much battering and numerous scrapes. Much of this alteration appears to be from antiquity.
The notch at the back is smaller than seen on most hachas. The medium, marble, was not commonly used in ancient Veracruz, but is found with somewhat greater frequency in sculptures in the northwestern portions of the south central Gulf lowlands. This is a good example of a southern variation of one of the main Gulf lowland hacha themes.

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. 20, cat. 94.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1947 Indigenous Art of the Americas: Collection of Robert Woods Bliss. National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., p. 22, 108, cat. 104.

Bliss, Robert W. 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. 237, cat. 26, pl. XVII.

Bliss, Robert W. 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. 245, cat. 26, pl. XVII.

Kelemen, Pál 1943 Medieval American Art, a Survey in Two Volumes. 2 v. vols. Macmillan, New York. p. 114-115, pl. 66b.

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology 1940 An Exhibition of Pre-Columbian Art. January 15 through February 10, Arranged by the Peabody Museum and the William Hayes Fogg Art Museum. Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., cat. 48.

Proskouriakoff, Tatiana 1954 Varieties of Classic Central Veracruz Sculpture. Contributions to American Anthropology and History; [V. 12] No. 58. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C., p. 79, fig. 11d.

Ries, Maurice Ruddell 1942 Ancient American Art, 500 B.C.-A.D. 1500; the Catalog of an Exhibit of the Art of the Pre-European Americas, April-June 1942, Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, C.A., cat. 39.

Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México 1957 Artes De México. 17. Began with issue for Oct./Nov. 1953. vols. Artes de México, México, D.F., pl. 17.

Exhibition History
"An Exhibition of Pre-Columbian Art", Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, MA, 1/15 - 3/2/1940.

"Ancient American Art", Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA, April - June 1942; M. H. De Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA, July - August 1942; Portland Museum of Art, Portland, OR, September - October 1942.

"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, April 1947 to July 1962.

"The Collector's Microbe: Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss and the Dumbarton Oaks Collections," Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, 4/9 - 11/9/2008.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Joseph Brummer, Paris (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1913.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1913-1962.

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

Ballgame | Classic Veracruz