the were-jaguar emerging from a sprouting maize ear with a split on each side representative of the cardinal directions, the soft and full arms resting on top, the face dominated by the taut downturned mouth pressing against the flared nostrils and exposing the upper gum, with incised parallel lines curving down each side of the face, bisecting each eye and continuing onto the chest, the cleft head sweeping backwards; the remainder of the pointed blade below.
Edward H. Merrin Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above, 1980
Gérald Berjonneau, Jean-Louis Sonnery and Emile Deletaille, Rediscovered Masterpieces of Mesoamerica, 1985, p. 36, pl. 8
This finely carved perforator is one of only four examples of the infant were-jaguar emerging from the cleaved stalk of the plant. The were-jaguar’s soft fleshy body is masterfully juxtaposed to the impenetrable hardness of the jade. Were-jaguars were the most prevalent creature of Olmec mythology and iconography. The jaguar was revered as the most powerful creature of the animal world; it was the lord of the night and ultimately associated with political might and physical and divine power. In some depictions, the half human, half feline figures graphically show the shamanic transformation of man into animal, in other sculptures they are humans wearing jaguar masks. But in all forms they convey the potency and power of the transitory state. This were-jaguar is distinguished by the supernatural insignia of vertical lines bisecting the eye, and thus it is connected to the banded-eye god, one of the principal deities represented on the Las Limas figure. Interestingly, the banded-eye god is never shown as a full figure, as rendered here and on the Tlapacoya ceramics on which he is depicted (Joralemon in Benson and de la Fuente 1996:56).
For the Olmec, the continual dynamic between the natural and supernatural world, was the crucial balance of power that was maintained by the rulers and shaman. Bloodletting, the offering of vital sacred fluid, was one of the most important acts that was practiced from Olmec times and continued in high ceremony through the Maya period. It was an act of penitence and purification, but also a metaphoric nourishing of the earth to help ensure fertile crops. Bloodletters were made from natural objects such as stingray spines, cactus points, and sharks teeth. “[The]…creation of magically empowered objects of precious and exotic materials animated in ritual performance gave visible form to the shamanic powers of Olmec rulers as a validation to their claim of rulership.” (Coe et al 1996:163).
For the three other perforators with were-jaguar figures, see (ibid: pl. 76), Deletaille et al (1985: fig. 5); and an unpublished example in an American private collection as cited by Joralemon (Janssen Collection 2005:26). Joralemon also notes that the Olmec concept of a supernatural being issuing from a plant became a sculptural form as seen in Jaina figures, for the Maya.
For other examples of jade perforators, see Coe et al (1996: pls. 77-80); and Benson and de la Fuente ed. (1996: fig. 105).
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale