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This fine thin hacha is carved from white marble, a medium rarely used in this genre. Its outer surfaces do not seem to have been carefully polished, but its slightly pocked appearance may have resulted from deposition in acidic soils. The narrow space within the border is nearly filled with a three dimensional figure, accentuated by perforation of the background. While this male has been described as an acrobat, this interpretation is highly unlikely when the work’s broader context is considered. The scene is a dramatic moment: a post-warfare or post-ball game ritual, probably a sacrifice, and it often occurs on some hachas and many palmas.
The figure’s torso is unclothed except for a knotted cord about his waist. This restricting accoutrement signifies a prisoner, particularly one who is sacrificed in a form of gladiatorial combat or in rites following a ball game. He wears the elaborate, knotted sandals of the elite and a helmet probably symbolizing a feline. Suspended from his ears are earrings of curved shell in the epcololli (Nahuatl) hook shape, often associated with Venus ceremonialism, which is closely linked with warfare and rulers. The object beneath his hand is possibly a glove, tablet, or shield. Small rectangular shields are sometimes depicted on the wrists or forearms of Gulf lowlands warriors armed with a spear thrower, the preferred weapon of the elite.
This hacha may be one of the southernmost examples known in the high-thin format. It certainly demonstrates the continuation of the war-based ball game ritualism of the coastal elites in a very poorly defined frontier region that was situated in the higher elevations of the south central Gulf lowlands. Its manufacture, as with many hachas or palmas, was probably commissioned to celebrate a sacrifice following an important military victory or conquest. It is likely to be among the last sculptures in the Classic Veracruz style.
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. 19, cat. 92.
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, 109, cat. 105.
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. 236, cat. 23, pl. XV.
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. 244, cat. 23, pl. XV.
Christensen, Erwin Ottomar 1955 Primitive Art. Bonanza Books, New York. p. 202, 236, fig. 178.
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. 12.
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, April 1947 to July 1962.
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, before 1947.
Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1940-1962.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.