In the ancient Americas, skilled craftspeople made luxurious goods restricted for the right and the entitled. Their culture crafted these prized objects for ritual and regalia, using their most valued materials. Jade, rather than gold, was the most precious substance to the Olmecs and the Maya in Mesoamerica, and the Incas and their predecessors in the Andes valued feathers and textiles above all.
Uncover the awe-inspiring craftsmanship of this Pre-Columbian Olmec were-jaguar transformation mask, originating from Mexico to Guatemala and dating back to around 900 to 600 BCE. Meticulously carved from dark green omphacite jade, this expressive masterpiece features a square jaw, feline eyes, and a trapezoidal mouth with a flared upper lip, creating a strikingly realistic feline face. The absence of a typical headband allows for a more dramatic expression, surpassing even the most theatrical Olmec visages known. Delve into the details, from bean-shaped eyes with drilled pupils to prominent nasolabial folds emphasizing curved fangs.
This exceptional full maskette, measuring 4.1″ W x 5.3″ H, showcases additional features like lengthy ear flaps and an impressed striation on the top of the head. Explore the significance of the green color and jaguar symbolism, reflecting growth, renewal, and power in the pre-Columbian world. The Olmec would have considered this jade mask an exceedingly valuable and rare piece of ceremonial art.
Explore this mask’s remarkable attention to detail, highlighting expressive lips, a cleft palette in the jaguar mouth, a full nose with pierced nostrils, stylized elliptical-shaped eyes, and partially drilled circular motifs at the mouth corners. Unraveling the meanings of Olmec masks, scholars speculate on the symbolic significance of green – linked to vibrant growth, renewal, and cyclical rejuvenation after death. Delve into the pre-Columbian worldview, where jaguar imagery represented power and might – Warriors, rulers, hunters, and shamans all identified with this formidable creature, the largest and most powerful feline in the New World.
The overall height mounted with this custom stand is 7.3″ H (18.5 cm).
Condition: Polished face with a partly smooth back. No fractures. Completely intact in choice condition.
Provenance: L. Smyth, Florida. Acquired 1970s – 80s.
Accompanied by a hardbound CIRAM Scientific Analysts report attesting to its authenticity and Ruffner Art Advisory Fair Market Value report. Copies are available upon request.
A similar example can be found in Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC under accession number PC.B.020. Additionally, another example depicting a slightly earlier period in the transformational process can be seen at The Metropolitan Museum of Art under accession number 1977.187.33
Sotheby’s New York sold another similar Olmec jade mask for $481,000 during their “African, Oceanic, And Pre-Columbian Art” auction on May 16th, 2008 (sale number N08444, lot 14).
Appears in the advert section in the July/August 2020 issue of the Apollo – International Art Magazine and Dec/Jan 2020 issue of the Native American Art Magazine. Native American Art Magazine
You may also preview this Olmec Mask via YouTube by clicking here: Olmec Were-Jaguar Mask.
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