Lot 142
  • 142

Veracruz Standing Priestess, Nopiloa Late Classic, circa AD 550-950

150,000 - 200,000 USD
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  • ceramic
  • Height: 15 1/4 in (38.8 cm)


Jack Tanzer, New York, possibly acquired from Robert Stolper, London
Sotheby's, New York, November 27-28, 1984, lot 143, consigned by the above
Herbert L. Lucas, Los Angeles, acquired from the above auction
American Private Collection, acquired from the above


Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Long term loan, 1985-January 2003, (T1985.202)

Catalogue Note

This figure of a priestess is perhaps the finest example of the Nopiloa figural tradition. She exudes youthful and confident  beauty, and wears elaborate and refined clothing of her status. The Nopiloa region in south/central region of Veracruz  was originally the center of the great Olmec culture of the Preclassic era, and continued to be a highly populated and important region into the Late Classic period.  El Tajin was the northern major architectural center, famous for the Pyramid of the Niches and the concentration of ballcourts and elaborate low relief friezes.  Nopiloa was a center of intensive ceramic production, and became best known for the prized egg-shell thin moldmade figures made from extremely fine grained buff clay and covered in the creamy white slip.

The priestess broad face has elongated almond-shaped eyes looking downward and her full, parted lips reveal a single filed tooth indicative of her elite status. The quechquemitl tunic is a layered fabric with a bold design in appliqué of stepped scrolls and tapered flares in a symmetrical form, at each side are distinct bifurcated feathered elements, the lower portion of the tunic is overlaid on a fine mesh ground and the appliqués on the upper half are trimmed by dots. Four emblems of crossbands atop a square are placed over the chest and shoulders, and she wears a double-strand necklace with a face pendant. Long plaits of her striated hair fall onto each shoulder, held back by her disk earrings and the rounded turban of alternating textile designs.  Her outstretched hands are pulled close into her shoulders, perhaps a ceremonial dance gesture.

For other figures of the Nopiloa tradition from the Jay C. Leff collection, see Elizabeth K. Easby, Ancient Art from Latin America from the Collection of Jay C. Leff, New York, 1966, figs. 371-374.