An unknown artist or group of Olmec artisans carved and polished this figure from green jade. This work portrays a male figure with almond-shaped eyes, cuts indicating arms, the figure’s hands resting above the knees across the torso, and relatively large open mouth with fangs. Works by later cultures such as the Mixtec and Mexica (Aztecs) often transformed the large mouth with fangs into a beard.
This intricately worked piece probably captures the most significant moment of a ritual process, during which a shaman or deity transforms from jaguar to human (or vice versa). Though the image of the “were-jaguar” is nearly pervasive in Olmec sculpture and architecture, the meaning of jaguar iconography for the Olmec tradition remains uncertain. However, scholars often associate this with the god of maize and the color green. Together, this symbolism is believed by scholars to be associated with seeking divine aid to ensure fertility and therefore the ability to sustain Olmec society and its relatively large population.
[Throckmorton Fine Art, New York, NY];
The Jan T. and Marica Vilcek Collection, 2004-2010;
Gift to The Vilcek Foundation, 2010;