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Monkey Masquette

Olmec, Middle Preclassic
900 BCE - 300 BCE
2.86 cm x 2.86 cm x 1.91 cm (1 1/8 in. x 1 1/8 in. x 3/4 in.)

Not on view


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Along with carving life-size jade masks, the Olmec also fashioned miniature masks worn as items of jewelry. Although this item previously was identified as Maya both the stone and carving technique suggest an Olmec attribution. Rather than the bright apple-green color common to Classic Maya jades, this masquette is of translucent olive-green jadeite. It closely resembles a miniature mask complete with eye orbits and a hollowed back. The pair of perforations near the upper portion of the head corresponds to mask suspension holes. Rather than serving as a mask for a statuette, however, this object probably was a pendant. The hollowed back both alludes to a miniature mask and improves the translucency of the stone. The lower right ear of the masquette has suffered some damage, resulting in much of the earlobe being destroyed. Along with the form and quality of the jade being characteristic of the Olmec, the pendant also exhibits the widespread use of carving with solid core drills, another common trait of Olmec jade working. The sunken eye orbits, nostrils, cheeks, and the hollowed back all were carved by drilling. In addition, the nostril holes biconically pierce the nasal septum, a common trait of Olmec carvings in precious stone. Pairs of holes also pierce the earlobes and the top of the mask. In these two cases, however, the drilling was primarily from the back of the mask, with only minute holes visible on the front. The widely open eyes and sunken cheeks of the monkey masquette pendant convey a highly animated and almost mischievous quality, which seems to be further conveyed by the curiously asymmetric nostrils.

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. 14, cat. 63.

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. 250, cat. 111, pl. LXV.

Bliss, Robert Woods 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. 258, cat. 111, pl. LXV.

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. 136.

Ries, Maurice Ruddell (ED.) 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. cat. 96.

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. 153-5, pl. 32.


Kidder, Alfred 1959 The Art of the Ancient Maya. Crowell, in association with the Detroit Institute of Arts,, New York. fig. 89.

Exhibition History
"An Exhibition of Pre-Columbian Art", Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, MA, 1/15 - 3/2/1940 (catalogue # 136).

"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 (catalogue # 96).

"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, September 1960 to July 1962.

Acquisition History
Purchased from William Spratling, New York, by Robert Woods Bliss, 1938.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1938-1962.

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

Masks | Monkeys | Olmecs