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Lot 158a, Auction 12/6/2018: Aztec Stone Head of Young Man, ex-Sotheby's

Pre-Columbian, Central Mexico, Aztec, ca. 1470 to 1521 CE. Finely carved from a red volcanic stone, the head of a young man with a naturalistic nose, slightly parted lips, almond-shaped eyes that would have been set with inlays - perhaps shell, obsidian, or another stone - nicely contoured facial planes, large ears, and a low cut coiffure. This plain hairstyle suggests that the head would have been furnished with different headdresses to represent various deities during festivals throughout the year. Recent scholarship also suggests that sculptures like this were intended to represent various states of intoxication via the consumption of pulque - a special Aztec beverage derived from the maguey or agave plant. Size: 8" H (20.3 cm); 12.25" H (31.1 cm) on included custom stand.

Pulque was one of several alcoholic drinks made from the fermented sap of the Maguey plant. (Tequila is another that may be more familiar to you, though it is distilled to make it stronger.) Pulque consumption was widespread throughout Pre-Columbian Mexico, and there were various gods and goddesses associated with it. Most notably, the Aztec god Tepoztecal was the god of alcoholic merriment. Pulque was served at religious ceremonies as a ritual intoxicant for priests and as a medicinal drink. It was also served in elaborate ceremonies to celebrate brave heroes of battle, and was so sacred as to be an acceptable substitute for blood in certain ancient rituals.

According to Deborah Toner, Lecturer at the University of Leicester, "Pulque’s special status as a material substance connecting together human, natural and divine worlds was also due to its intoxicating properties. Intoxication was understood as a state of instability and unpredictability that was also valuable as means of transferring between human, divine and natural states of being. Pulque – together with chocolate, tobacco, blood and hallucinogenic substances – fulfilled this special function, which was at the heart of much of the Aztecs’ religious and ritual life." (https://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/consumingauthenticities/2015/07/03/the-story-of-pulque-part-3-ritual-and-power-in-aztec-mexico/)

Deborah Toner also points to Aztec stone carvings of "drunkards" - very similar to this example - that display various emotional states following the consumption of pulque. See similar examples in the Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, Mexico City featured in Toner's article. (https://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/consumingauthenticities/2015/07/03/the-story-of-pulque-part-3-ritual-and-power-in-aztec-mexico/)

Condition: Probably came from a larger free standing sculpture. Eyes would have had shell, stone, or obsidian inlays. Normal surface wear with some scuffs and abrasions. Losses to back of neckline as shown. "Morelos" handwritten in black on white on back of neck. Nice root marks and mineral deposits grace the surface.

Provenance: ex-private Hawaii, USA collection; ex-collection of Dr. Allen A. Heflin, Kansas City, Missouri, USA; ex-Sothebys, New York (November 24, 1997, lot 346); ex-Stuart & Scott Gentling collection, Fort Worth, Texas, USA; ex-Bonhams, New York (November 12, 2014, lot 80)

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