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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Toltec Art : Toltec Plumbate Head Effigy Vessel
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Toltec Plumbate Head Effigy Vessel - PF.2942
Origin: Soconusco, Guatemala
Circa: 1000 AD to 1200 AD
Dimensions: 5.25" (13.3cm) high x 4.125" (10.5cm) wide
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Medium: Plumbate

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The Toltec civilization first gained ascendany in the Vallery of Mexico around 900 A.D., after the fall of Teotihuacan. Although their origins and early history are obscure, the Toltecs appear to have ancient ties to both the Mixtec and the Zapotec. The word Toltec means “master builders” in the Nahuatl language, a testament to the sophistication of Toltec constructions. Their art and architecture was highly influenced by Teotihuacan as well as the ancient Olmec culture. The Toltecs were technologically advanced, capable of smelting metals. Their stonework was impecible as the ruins of Tula demonstrate. This archaeological site is believed to be Tollan, the legendary capital of the Toltec civilization referred to in a number of postconquest sources. Their social structure was headed by an elite class of warriors. Excavation have uncovered the ceremonial center that included a pyramid structure topped by a temple dedicated to the hero-god Quetzalcoatl.

Pottery vessels of this type are known as plumbate-ware. During the height of the Toltec civilization, plumate works were produced at only one place: on the Pacific slope of the Soconusco region in modern Guatemala. Furthermore, the process by which it was made seems to have been a closely guarded secret. Such wares were highly valued throughout Mesoamerica and were traded along commercial networks that extended as far as Panama. Plumate was so desirable in part because it maintains an exceptional hardness that can be scarcely scratched with steel.

This sturdy plumbate vessel has retained its beautiful orange hue and sculptural detail. The vessel has a beautiful vitrified surface that has been enhanced with incision lines represented decorative facial scarification. Although such works were commonly sculpted in the form of heads, this vessel is unique because it depicts an elderly woman. Only the heads of god and men, or sometimes animals, were traditionally represented. This woman was probably a person of high class or a deity, as her ear spools and beautifully decorated headdress indicate. With her well-defined, high cheekbones and sharp nose, the plumbate vessel holds a fine sculptural quality. Having been made exclusively in one region during a brief period of time, with a secretive method, this plumbate vessel is a valuable rarity from Pre-Columbian history. - (PF.2942)


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