Olmec Stone Sculpture - PF.4342
Origin: Mexico
Circa: 900 BC to 500 BC
Dimensions: 10.5" (26.7cm) high x 16.75" (42.5cm) depth
Catalogue: V22
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Style: Olmec
Medium: Stone

The Olmec sculptors have left behind a legacy of some of the most impressive and unique works of art in the world. To fully appreciate an object such as this amazing sculpture it is helpful to learn something about the context in which it was created. An Olmec artist did not originally set out to make something simply by personal choice as an artistic expression. A sculpture was conceived in an already established religious structure and had to conform to certain ritualistic criteria. We cannot ignore the element of an artist's aesthetic predilections; yet the mandates of political and religious leaders often took precedence over personal choice. Hence, the extraordinary image on this sculpted stone was probably instantly recognizable and had deep religious significance for everyone who saw it. The face itself is much like a snake, which was considered a sacred animal. Its mouth is pulled back in a wide grin exposing formidable teeth or fangs. The eyes are composed of circles and semi-circles in a clever design that draws the viewer inwards as if towards a whirlpool. The engraved markings in the middle and the elongated head further enhance the snake image. Perhaps the most significant aspect is the shallow bowl or dish carved into the top of the head. This suggests it was used for the burning of ritual incense or to hold precious liquids. Such an object proved the sculptor had succeeded in mastering the spiritual discipline necessary to work in so hard and intractable a material as stone. He would have been admired as much for this as for the actual finished product. When seeing something with such majesty and power as this sculpture, we might well believe supernatural forces were needed in its creation. - (PF.4342)