Property from an American Private Collection
OLMEC FIGURE OF A BALLPLAYER, TLATILCO REGION EARLY PRECLASSIC, CIRCA 1200-900 BC
Height: 5 ⅜ in (13.6 cm)
Excellent condition overall. Good details of clothing and ornaments. Appears intact with no breaks.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.
D. Daniel Michel, Chicago, acquired in 1963 (inventory no. 63:101)
Ancient Art of the New World, New York, acquired from the above
American Private Collection, acquired in 1991
Michael D. Coe, The Jaguar's Children: Pre-Classic Central Mexico, 1965, New York, cat. no. 100
Michael D. Coe, America's First Civilization: Discovering the Olmec, New York, 1968, p. 6
Leo Rosshandler, Man-Eaters and Pretty Ladies: Early Art in Central Mexico from the Gulf to the Pacific, 1500 BC-500 AD, New York and Montreal, 1971, cat. no. 124
The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, The Jaguar's Children: Pre-Classic Central Mexico, February 17- May 5, 1965
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Man-Eaters and Pretty Ladies: Early Art in Central Mexico from the Gulf to the Pacific, 1500 BC-500 AD, January 15- March 8, 1971
The Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, 1981-1983, temporary loan from D. Daniel Michel
The Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, Spring 1989-Summer 1990, temporary loan from D. Daniel Michel
This elaborately costumed figure is designated as one of the Pilli type known from Tlatilco and Tlapacoya. These specially attired ceremonial figures represent high status dignitaries or religious leaders as ballplayers. This figure is heavily laden with protective cord belts wrapped around the waist, knees and ankles, necessary defensive gear against the dense rubber balls that could only be hit with the head, arms, hips and knees. He wears a protective face mask revealing only his eyes, a special feature not commonly depicted on other ballplayer figurines. Around his neck hangs an oval mirror of iron ore or obsidian, one of the ultimate symbols of authority.
The figure represents the importance of the ceremonial ballgame as early as 1200 BC. The ballgame is one of defining elements of Mesoamerican culture; the victorious outcome of a ballplayer reflected humans dominance over the lords of the Underworld, ensuring the return of day after night, the continuation of seasonal cycles and replenished authority.