Mexico, Olmec culture
Middle Pre-Classic period (900–300 B.C.)
c. 900–400 B.C.
5 1/2 x 2 11/16 x 1 1/8 in. (13.9 x 6.9 x 2.9 cm)
Currently On View
The Olmecs produced the first complex culture in Middle America. Their settlements saw the establishment of the first sacred centers composed of plazas, mounds, and pyramids; and the ceremonial centers contained colossal basalt sculptured heads that portrayed secular leaders as well as deities. Representations of deities include human-animal composites of jaguars, harpy eagles, snakes, and crocodiles. The artistic style that the Olmec developed continued for centuries without radical variation. The forms are generous, with substantial mass defined by simplified, boldly flowing contours. Details are limited to those essential for image and content recognition. Figures tend towards the androgynous; heads are large, probably to emphasize their importance, and bodies are short and stocky. This carved figure is a quintessential work of Olmec culture. Despite its small size, it is unusually monumental in its impact. The lifelike proportions and subtle musculature of this figure epitomize the sensitivity of Olmec jade carving at its finest. Although their function and purpose are not understood, numerous extant examples of this kind of figure suggest they had an important ceremonial function for the Olmec.