The strike force of pre-Columbian art

On 20 June 2019, by Anne Doridou-Heim

The magnetic gaze of a Mochica funerary mask from Peru was trained on an American collection of pre-Columbian art, also containing artefacts from Mexico and Guatemala.

Northern Peru, Ancient Middle Mochica culture, 100-700 AD, wooden funerary mask with traces of red pigment, 20 x 26 x 13.5 cm.
Result: €209,396

Electrifying the cover of Gazette no. 19 of 17 May with its lifelike qualities, this funerary Mochica mask from Northern Peru made a decided impression in the auction room, and was carried off to another destination for €209,396. A powerful object and a significant one, too, because it adds further to our knowledge of the rites of a culture flourishing between 100 and 700 AD. Power was also evident in a dark green serpentine standing figure, which fetched €238,260. This came from the State of Guerrero in Mexico, and was the work of the Olmec culture: an even older one, as it developed between 1200 and 1400 BC. The first Mesoamerican civilisation, this society is famous for its monumental high-relief sculpture and hardstone statuettes and masks illustrating the power and strength of its totem animal: the jaguar. Most pieces featuring the big cat – including this one – show it with a gaping mouth and almond-shaped eyes, often half-closed, and a nose wrinkled like a truffle. The New York collection (whose third part was up for sale here) was particularly partial to these and contained a rare group of them. Another fine lot was a small (h. 10 cm) anthropomorphic mask in speckled green jadeite sporting earrings (€37,912). Mexico revealed further riches with a figure and a seated hunchback in ceramic with brown slip, both from the Colima culture (100 BC -250 AD). These stood out for their "simplified beauty", providing a less terrifying vision of these cultures, often limited in the collective imagination to their rituals and sacrifices. They were rewarded with €37,912 and €78,196 respectively.

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