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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Colima Reclinatorios : Colima Reclinatorio Vessel
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Colima Reclinatorio Vessel - DA.682
Origin: Western Mexico
Circa: 300 BC to 300 AD
Dimensions: 8" (20.3cm) high x 8" (20.3cm) wide x 5.5" (14.0cm) depth
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Medium: Terracotta
Condition: Very Fine

Location: United States
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The Colima are part of a group of archaeological cultures – known almost purely from their artworks – referred to as the Western Mexico Shaft Tomb (WMST) tradition. There are many distinct groups within this agglomeration, and their relationships are almost totally obscure due to the lack of contextual information.

All of the cultures encompassed under the WMST nomenclature were in the habit of burying their dead in socially-stratified burial chambers at the base of deep shafts, which were in turn often topped by buildings. Originally believed to be influenced by the Tarascan people, who were contemporaries of the Aztecs, thermoluminescence has pushed back the dates of these groups over 1000 years. Although the apogee of this tradition was reached in the last centuries of the 1st millennium BC, it has its origins over 1000 years earlier at sites such as Huitzilapa and Teuchitlan, in the Jalisco region. Little is known of the cultures themselves, although preliminary data seems to suggest that they were sedentary agriculturists with social systems not dissimilar to chiefdoms. These cultures are especially interesting to students of Mesoamerican history as they seem to have been to a large extent outside the ebb and flow of more aggressive cultures – such as the Toltecs, Olmecs and Maya – in the same vicinity. Thus insulated from the perils of urbanization, they developed very much in isolation, and it behooves us to learn what we can from what they have left behind.

The arts of this region are enormously variable and hard to understand in chronological terms, mainly due to the lack of context. The most striking works are the ceramics, which were usually placed in graves, and do not seem to have performed any practical function (although highly decorated utilitarian vessels are also 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. More abstract pieces – such as reclinatorios – probably had a more esoteric meaning that is hard to recapture from the piece.

The current piece falls within the Colima style, which is perhaps the most unusual stylistic subgroup of this region. Characterized by a warm, red glaze, the figures are very measured and conservative, while at the same time displaying a great competence of line. They are famous for their sculptures of obese dogs, which seem to have been fattened for the table. Colima reclinatorios are also remarkable, curvilinear yet geometric assemblages of intersecting planes and enigmatic constructions in the semi-abstract.

This piece is a reclinatorio, a type of head and back rest used by high-ranking officials. Characterized by red slip and a highly burnished surface. It may represent a companion spirit that guided the dead into the underworld. It has a buff, reddish surface decorated with black circular markings. The front takes the form of a stylized fish or amphibian. Two small fins protrude from the sides of the body further accentuating the aquatic attributes of this unique sculpture and a mouth and partial head to the top left of the vessel.

There is a large inverted spout at the center top and to the back of the vessel. The vessel may have contained a special beverage to placate the gods or for the deceased on his journey through the afterlife. Alternatively, it may have contained something related to the ancient sacrificial rites.

The vessel leans back on two human legs which are bent at the knees from the weight it is intended to carry. The legs are exquisitely and realistically formed and ironically appear full of life. The flat, slightly concaved back surface of the zoomorphic piece and overall rectangular design with rounded corners appears to take a tail like shape towards the bottom upon which the piece rests. In a funerary context, the Colima used reclinatorios to prop up the head of the deceased. - (DA.682)


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