Jalisco Seated Couple, Ameca-Etzatlán Style, Protoclassic, 100 BC - AD 250
- Heights: 24 1/4 in and 24 1/2 in (61.6 cm and 62.2 cm)
Edwin and Cherie Silver, Los Angeles, acquired from the above in 1973
Inventoried by Hasso von Winning, October 22, 1973, no. 103, a and b
In the canon of the Ameca style, the figures share realistically formed bodies in creamy gray tones with careful attention to areas offset in matte black pigment, specifically the outlined wide-rimmed eyes, lips, and plain coiffure. The male’s forearms are also blackened as if in bands or cuffs. Her youthful breasts are painted with geometric designs, each composed of four sections in a spiral formation. As opposed to permanent raised tattoos, painted decoration may be a body modification that was pertinent to a specific ritual or period of life.
The striking gesture of the female’s straightened right arm and lifted left hand is a marked counterpoint to her male companion. As Gallagher noted, seemingly basic gestures carry symbolic and ritual connotations. As shown only on female figures, the gesture of one hand extended straight outward was recently studied by Rebecca Stone, whereby the 'stop' gesture is considered an instruction to spirits to prevent them from leaving a mortuary context and reentering the realm of the living (Stone, in Beekman and Pickering, ed., Reassessment, 2016, p. 182). Of note were the numerous ethnographic sources describing the anxiety created by spirits and souls lingering presence.
The Jalisco region was one of the first areas of West Mexico explored by the intrepid British artist Adela Breton in her extensive travels through Mexico beginning in 1895. Her numerous volumes of sketchbooks with drawings, watercolors and notes were remarkable records of the Jalisco region and also of the Maya ruins in the Yucatan, (see the Adela Breton archives in the City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, England). She was the first to record an important site in the Tequila Valley recognized in current research as one of the largest ceremonial and residential complexes of the region. Visiting a local hacienda she sketched two Jalisco female figures, each with finely painted geometric designs on the breasts (Fig. 1). In her short article published in 1903, she commented on the specific arm gesture also seen on the Silvers' female figure, "…[she] clutched her hair with one hand while the other was outstretched in seeming effort to ward off some terrible fate" (Breton, 'Some Mexican Portrait Clay Figures', Man: a Monthly Record of Anthropological Science, Vol. 3, No. 75, 1903, p. 132).
Christopher Beekman’s work in the Tequila Valley has used an interdisciplinary approach with art historians, archaeologists, and conservators contributing to the "reassessment" of how ancient ceramic figures related to ceremonial and residential areas, and how authority functioned in ancient society (Beekman and Pickering, eds., Reassessment, 2016; Beekman, in Kurdick and Baron, eds., Political Strategies, 2016, pp. 97-119). The Tequila valley was particularly rich in resources enabling sophisticated settlement areas with residential compounds, ball courts, and a specific form of public ceremonial space known as a guachimontón. These were circular clusters of houses arranged around a tiered central platform that was accessed by stairways placed in directional axes. The guachimontón provided a dedicated space for performative rituals, lineage ceremonies, funerals, agricultural ceremonies, and feasting events, participated in by the community but organized by the ranking lineages or shaman. Beekman suggested that certain ceramic figures had a "use-life", they could have been displayed or even used in public ceremonies. Those who controlled the space with sacred knowledge could mediate the supernatural with the specific rites performed (Beekman, ibid.).
Of note is the Aztec reference to the Jalisco region as Cihuatlan, "the place of women" (Holsbeke and Arnaut, Offerings for a New Life, 1998, p. 135). For a male figure of highly similar style, see von Winning, Pre-Columbian Art, 1968, color plate, p. 131.