First documented in the late nineteenth century, Ulúa style vessels represent a small corpus of fewer than 200 examples. They were valued luxury goods traded in a broad geographic range from Costa Rica in the south to the Central Maya lowland in the north. Vessels have been generally categorized into five groups by the variety of handle styles, but they are highly consistent in the overall design motifs of frontal and profile zoomorphic heads flanked by scrolls, scales, and scalloped forms.
Research on Ulúa vessels by Luke and Tykot has focused on the Travesia region, long regarded as an important site of a concentrated production of these beautiful bowls. They describe the integrative potential of specialized craftsmanship between communities; in particular, how the Ulúa style was developed and refined by generations of artisans, creating a trademark to celebrate Travesia as a sacred center (Luke and Tykot, "Celebrating Place Through Luxury Craft Production, Travesia and Ulua style marble vases", Ancient Mesoamerica, Vol. 18, No. 2, Fall 2007, p. 316). As Travesia was located in a prime cacao growing area of the Ulúa valley, access and control of this highly valued item contributed to the prominence of the community.
The low walls of this tripod bowl are carved with a frontal face marked by heavy-lidded oval eyes with tiny drilled pupils. A scrolling moustache brackets the toothy mouth of the face and confronted profile heads of a zoomorphic creature flank the sides. The uplifted snout blends its scrolled end into the overlapping scales of the horizontal band. Each massive handle depicts a crouching feline with its raised head snarling, and its body overlaid with the zoomorphic head found on the walls of the vessel.
A fine tall Ulúa vessel with similar handles is in the Cleveland Museum of Art, (inv. no. 1990.9); for other examples, see Kelemen, Medieval American Art, New York, 1944, pls. 94-95.
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