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Colima Seated Shaman Figure - Scalloped Collar & Horn

Pre-Columbian, West Mexico, Colima, ca. 300 BCE to 300 CE. An enormous and exquisite redware terracotta anthropomorphic sculpture representing a seated shaman, his posture indicative of meditative contemplation. His highly-burnished body exhibits gently bent, outstretched legs, elongated arms which fall beside his wide torso, with hands lightly resting upon his knees. A classic shaman’s horn on his forehead is secured by a red-orange strap, adorned with dozens of miniscule incised spots, which wraps around his chin and the top of his head. A similarly-spotted incised sash wraps around his waist, perhaps representative of a jaguar pelt, and his broad neck is girded with a scalloped and splayed seven-petaled collar. The serene visage, comprised of a prominent nose, slight-parted mouth, and impassive eyes, suggests his mental faculties are engaged in a trance-like state. Embellished in citrine- and ruby-hued slip, this is a magnificent figure awash with personality and marvelous attention to detail. Size: 9" W x 15.875" H (22.9 cm x 40.3 cm).

Colima, located on Mexico's southwestern coast, was during this time part of the shaft tomb culture, along with neighbors to the north in Jalisco and Nayarit. In this culture, the dead were buried down shafts - 3 to 20 meters deep - that were dug vertically or near vertically through the volcanic tuff that makes up the geology of the region. The base of the shaft would open into one or more horizontal chambers with a low ceiling. These shafts were almost always dug beneath a dwelling, probably a family home, and seem to have been used as family mausoleums, housing the remains of many related individuals. This is a figure made to be placed inside those mausoleums, perhaps to mediate between the worlds of the living and the dead.

What is the meaning of this particular fabulous figure? Much of the religious practice of this culture and others in Mesoamerica involved shamans/priests entering an altered state, often through the use of strong alcohol or hallucinogenic substances. The blank eyes and skyward-tilted head of the figure suggest that this is a depiction of a religious trance, and the jaguar pelt around his waist may be representative of elevated societal status as only those with ample wealth and influence could afford such luxuries. The jaguar symbolized power and might throughout the Pre-Columbian world. Warriors, rulers, hunters, and shamans alike associated themselves with this king of beasts, the largest and most powerful feline in the New World. A nocturnal animal, the jaguar sleeps in caves and dark places and creeps quietly in the forest, evoking great mystery.

Condition: Horn, top of head, upper face, and nose repaired with light resurfacing, overpainting, and minor chips along break lines. Majority of spout restored with resurfacing and overpainting along break lines. Expected age-commensurate surface wear, with small nicks and chips to mouth, ears, collar petals, nose, and spout. Fading and minor fire-clouding to pigmentation, with light areas of roughness to feet and base, otherwise excellent. Wonderful earthen deposits and manganese blooms throughout.

Provenance: private Pacific Palisades, California, USA collection; ex-Chang-Ley collection, acquired in 1940s

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