Cultures throughout Mesoamerica produced ceramic figurines from the earliest periods through the time of contact with Europeans. These figurines depicted people of all levels of status, from common people to rulers, and the figurines also depicted deities. The study of ceramic figurines also illustrates how depictions of deities changed and developed through time. The figurines in this display are reproductions, but the style and the features of the figurines accurately portray the characteristics of ancient figurines from different Mesoamerican cultures.
These two figures are identifiable as portraying ceramic figurines from Central Mexico, and the figure on the proper right has the squared head shape of figurines from the great Classic period city of Teotihuacan. The figure on the proper right appears to be young and of lower status, as it wears earrings, a necklace, and other jewelry, but no headdress. The figure on the proper left, however, has wrinkles showing that it is an elderly person, and along with round earspools, a necklace, and belt, it wears a large, fan-shaped headdress that suggests very high status.
This yellow figurine is one of four reproduction figurines made as a set. The yellow color is suggestive of maize (corn), and the figure also wears what appear to be a pair of stylized corn cobs in the middle of its headdress. Along with the large round earspools and pectoral, the large, rounded headdress with corn cobs worn by this figure suggest that this may represent Pitao Cozobi, the Zapotec maize god, who was often portrayed with such a headdress.
This lavender figurine, another from the set of four reproduction figurines, is very similar to the yellow figurine, and while the color is different, the imagery suggests that this figure, too, represents a maize god – or perhaps a priest or follower of the maize god. This figure also differs from the others in this group in that it appears to have male genitalia; native artisans sometimes add such features to reproductions – which rarely appeared on the original figures – perhaps as an inside joke.
Another reproduction figurine in the set of four, this red figurine holds an open vessel out toward the viewer. The figure wears only a pectoral decoration, but unlike the other figurines, this figure appears to be wearing a mask, as the features are distorted: The eyes are teardrop-shaped, the nose and lips are wide and flattened, and around the face is a ruff of petals or feathers. The supernatural face, encircled with feathers, most closely resembles early portrayals of the supernatural feathered serpent at the great Classic period city of Teotihuacan; this supernatural was a clear forerunner of the famous flying feathered serpent deity known as Quetzalcoatl/Kulkulcan.
The last and most unusual figurine in this set of four reproductions is a green figurine with simplified features. The figure wears only a pectoral on its chest, and its body also takes a more relaxed, less active pose. The most noteworthy feature is the figurine’s large, square headdress with simplified designs, which most closely resembles the relatively simple headdresses or helmets of the Gulf Coast Olmec cultures, who were among the earliest civilizations of Mesoamerica.
For more information, you may contact the researcher(s) noted in the title of this exhibit entry, or Dr. Billie Follensbee, the professor of the course, at BillieFollensbee@MissouriState.edu