This small greenstone head has been worked by grooving and polishing. It shows what may be areas of breakage, as from a larger object of which the head was once part. Its shape is almost that of a skull, but the details of the eyes, skin, and hair indicate that it represents a living individual. The head’s dimensions are nearly as wide and deep as it is high, its ovoid shape derived from the contours of the cranium and the pointed chin.
The eyes are the focal point of this face. A circular outer rim defines each eye, and in these circles, horizontal crescents show that the eyes are half-closed, suggesting the bleary gaze of someone barely awake. The eyes resemble the Aztec graphic shorthand of the half-closed eye as a star. Surrounding the circular eyes are concentric half-circles. Four sets above the eyes indicate eyebrows and a wrinkled forehead. The high forehead ends with a cap-like hairline; the rest of the hair is drawn into a bun at the back of the head.
Below the eyes, several other half-circles portray sagging skin on the cheeks. The nose has been damaged; similar objects have a sharp beaked nose. The crescent of the mouth contains several isolated teeth, deliberately indicating tooth loss as a sign of age. The ears are small and close to the head.
This very old individual is thought to portray the Central Mexican deity Huehueteotl, the Old Fire God. This deity was conceptualized as an old man and had been revered in Central Mexico since at least the Preclassic period. The figure lacks Huehueteotl’s characteristic headdress, however, and thus could represent one of the venerated Central Mexican elder goddesses, such as Toci. Whatever the sex, the figure’s combination of half-closed eyes, wrinkled face, and nearly toothless mouth show without doubt that this piece depicts the face of a very old person.
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. 2, cat. 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. 239, cat. 40, pl. XXX.
Nicholson, Irene 1967 Mexican and Central American Mythology. Hamlyn, London. p. 52.
Acquired before by Robert Woods Bliss before 1957.
Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1957-1962.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.