The universal nature of an Olmec statuette

On 26 June 2020, by Anne Doridou-Heim

The lion's share of the fourth sale of this major New York pre-Columbian art collection was devoted to Mexico, particularly the Olmecs.

Mexico, Olmec culture, Middle Preclassic period, 900-400 BC, anthropomorphic statuette in dark green serpentine, h. 20 cm, l. 8.1 cm.
Result: €399,900

With frequent appearances in exhibitions and private collections to its credit, an anthropomorphic statuette typical in every way of pieces found at different Olmec sites maintained its fine showing at €399,900. This type of sculpture was a funerary offering, which was placed upright with its fellows alongside small green stone axes. With the deliberately deformed skull of members of the elite class and an impeccable polish, this piece in serpentine belongs to a universal type. It was the finest artefact in this fourth sale of the collection and revealed a new aspect of the distant, mysterious and incredibly fascinating Olmec society. Accompanying it, an enigmatic plaque engraved with the head of a jaguar-man (15.4 x 16 cm, 6 x 6.2 in), also from the Middle Preclassic period (900-400 BCE), fetched €172,800. A leap in time took us to the more recent but equally enthralling era of the powerful Mayan civilisation. Here a highly singular piece drew all eyes: an "eccentric" flint. This is in fact a ritual blade shaped as the profile of a deity through an astonishing technical feat, rewarded here with a final bid of €204,800. But this did not detract from the hieratic character of a steatite reliquary figure with traces of cinnabar (h. 19.5 cm, 7.6 in), which garnered €228,150.
 

Mexico-Guatemala, Late Classic, 600-900, Mayan culture. "Eccentric" flint, brown flint, h. 39.2 cm.Result: €204,800

Mexico-Guatemala, Late Classic, 600-900, Mayan culture. "Eccentric" flint, brown flint, h. 39.2 cm, 1.2 ft.
Result: €204,800

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