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Colima Redware Seated Ancestor Figure

Pre-Columbian, West Mexico, Colima, Protoclassic Period, ca. 100 BCE to 250 CE. A lively, hand-built, and highly-burnished redware pottery figure seated on a pair of delineated curved legs below a portly abdomen. The figure rests with both sinuous arms draped down to his thighs and leading up to rounded shoulders decorated with several nubbin-shaped ornaments which can be interpreted as purely aesthetic or as marks of ritual scarification. His elongated head boasts a pair of broad cupped ears, rounded and perforated eyes, a prominent aquiline nose, and an incised smile, all beneath a globular head topped with a simple cap. The expressive, wide-pupiled visage may be indicative of a meditative, trance-like state, suggesting that this may either be a figure of shamanic influence or perhaps an ancestor meant to guide those still residing in the realm of the living. Enveloped with a deep red slip, this is a fabulous example of ancient shaft-tomb pottery! Size: 13.5" H (34.3 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.

The sculptural creations of Colima are quite distinctive with smooth, rounded forms presenting remarkable consistency in their warm russet red hues. In addition, the sculpture of Colima is known for a wide range of postures and expressions, making them quite intriguing to us, even some 2000 years after their origination.

A stylistically-similar example hammered for $1,920 at Christie's, New York Pre-Columbian Art Auction (sale 1837,, May 23, 2007, lot 70): https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot/colima-female-figure-protoclassic-ca-100-bc-4916334-details.aspx?from=searchresults&intObjectID=4916334&sid=820c9c41-d5a9-4e9b-9679-d38eff6cdeba

Condition: Head repaired from multiple pieces with small losses and light adhesive residue along break lines and significant losses to back of head. Both legs and hands repaired from several large pieces with small losses and light adhesive residue along break lines. Surface wear commensurate with age, fading to pigmentation, light abrasions, and chips to ears, nose, feet, arms, and head. Light earthen and mineral deposits throughout.

Provenance: private New York, New York, USA collection; ex-John O’Hara collection, acquired 1960s to 1970s

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