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Urn in the Form of Cociyo, God of Lightning and Rain, c. A.D. 400–500

Ancient American

The primary capital of Zapotec culture was the ceremonial site of Monte Albán (in the modern state of Oaxaca), where the Zapotecs worshipped a complex pantheon of nature gods. Zapotec culture is divided into four stages, each associated with the style of gray-ware effigy urns they placed with their honored dead.

This urn represents Cociyo, the Zapotec god of lightning and rain, identified by an amalgam of facial elements forming a powerfully sculptural mask. The stepped, two-part forms enclosing the eyes represent clouds and, by extension, the precious water needed to grow crops. The doubly plugged nasal extension is a development from earlier snouted deity elements that combine jaguar and snake allusions—the roar of the jaguar with the reverberation of thunder. The three fangs that protrude from this snout cover a bifurcated tongue, like the almost invisibly flashing tongue of a snake; the snake’s tongue symbolizes the lightning bolt. The broad mouth with drawn-back lips is derived from Olmec prototypes, among which would have been images of the baby rain god. The rest of the dress is as much that of a priest as of a deity, with the large disk-shaped earplugs and the knotted collar of high rank. The striations of the cape may be intended to represent feathers. The kilt is decorated with a wavelike pattern, with three attached tassels at the bottom. The ensemble thus echoes the various natural phenomena of a tropical mountain thunderstorm.

Adult: Urn in the Form of Cociyo

Audio file
Kimbell Art Museum, Acoustiguide Inc.

Children's: Urn in the Form of Cociyo, God of Lightning and Rain

Audio file
Kimbell Art Museum, Acoustiguide Inc.


(Edward H. Merrin Gallery, Inc., New York) prior to 1968;

purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1985.

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