Jalisco Zoomorphic Sculpture - PF.2939
Origin: Western Mexico
Circa: 300 BC to 300 AD
Dimensions: 11" (27.9cm) high
Catalogue: V15
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Style: Jalisco
Medium: Terracotta


This Jalisco zoomorphic figure dates to just before or after the start of the first millennium AD, and seems to represent a (mythical?) animal and its young. The Jalisco cultures of Western Mexico are comparatively understudied compared to the Maya and Olmec cultures, among many others, that inhabited other areas in the region. The reasons for this are unclear, although it is possible that they have been overshadowed due to their lack of monumental architecture.

This, however, has been an enormous oversight, because there are few cultures in the Americas elsewhere that can match the Jalisco for exuberant skill in the production of figurative ceramics. These vessels were usually placed in graves, and performed no practical function, although highly decorated vessels are known. It is possible that they were designed to depict the deceased – they are often very naturalistic – although it is more probable that they constituted, when in groups, a retinue of companions, protectors and servants for the hereafter. Many of the figures represent warriors, judging from their apparel and martial stance, although supernatural and more enigmatic figures are also known. The investment of time and energy in their manufacture is considerable, as can be seen in the current case.

The sculpture represents two figures. The first is a larger individual of uncertain sex in a stolid pose, kneeling on the right leg, with the left hand resting on its knee, and the right hand supporting the second figure. The latter is a smaller individual perched rather precariously in the first’s back, craning its neck eagerly over to its left and its hands resting casually on the first’s shoulders. Their identity is uncertain. They are either humans in animal masquerade, or mythical animals that held some significance for the culture that produced them. The anatomy of their bodies seems to suggest the former, as they have essentially human torsos and limbs, as well as what appears to be clothing and adornment. The masks – if masks they are – are long and snouted, with a generally rodent/canine appearance, surmounted by flat-topped, decorated hats. The deep brown of the ground highlights with the incised decoration detailing the edges of clothing and the presence of adornments that include belts and necklaces. As stated, te postcrania are essentially human, although forms are addressed as generalities as it is the heads that appears to have attracted the largest investment of time and effort from the sculptor. If they are intended to be dogs, their manufacture may be linked to the fact that dogs were seen as the guide to the underworld after one's death. While the significance of the piece may never be known, however, we can still appreciate the elegance of its execution. - (PF.2939)



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