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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Pre-Columbian Masterpieces : Olmec Greenstone Mask Depicting a Were-Jaguar
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Olmec Greenstone Mask Depicting a Were-Jaguar - PF.6196
Origin: Mexico
Circa: 900 BC to 300 BC
Dimensions: 4.25" (10.8cm) high
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Medium: Greenstone

Location: Great Britain
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The jaguar is one of the most potent symbols in Mesoamerican art. Often associated with the ruling power of the king, the jaguar was the most sacred beast in the animal pantheon. The veneration of this beast permeates the art of the Olmec. Considered to be the mother culture of Mesoamerican civilizations, the Olmec ruled a vast empire covering much of southern Mexico from around 1300-400 B.C. Today, they are famed for their colossal heads: giant sculptures that first alerted scholars to their existence in the latter half of the 19th Century. This green stone mask portrays facial features commonly referred to as the “were-jaguar.” This name is used to describe a characteristic countenance of Olmec art generally exhibiting the puffy, fat cheeks and jowls of a human baby with the slanted eyes and curved mouth of a jaguar. On this example, two holes underneath the upper lip suggest that fangs were once attached to this mask, further heightening the jaguar quality of the facial features. We believe these works to represent a shaman in the midst of physical transformation. These great spiritual leaders were supposed to be able to transform and assume the powers of wild animals, most formidably among them, the jaguar. The holes drilled into the top and chin of this mask reveal that is was a ceremonial object most likely hung on a string worn over the chest as a pectoral or around the shoulder. Perhaps the mask assisted the shaman in his transformation. Overall, this mask attests to the artistic sophistication of the Olmec as well as to their cultures religious and spiritual beliefs. As great civilizations rise and fall, they leave behind traces of their existence. Ritualistic objects, venerated in their own time, continue to exert an eternal force long after they have left the hands that once held them sacred. A mysterious energy still radiates from the core of this stone carving. - (PF.6196)


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