Portrait mask

Olmec
Middle Formative period
900–600 B.C.


Object Place: Río Pesquero area, Veracruz, Mexico

Dimensions

Overall: 21.6 x 11.4 x 18.7 cm (8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 7 3/8 in.)

Accession Number

1991.968

Medium or Technique

Jadeite with black inclusions

On View

Ancient Central America Gallery (Gallery LG32)

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Masks

This large mask is the portrait of an important figure in Olmec culture, perhaps that of a ruler. It may have been a symbol of state authority or a funerary item tied to a burial bundle. Originally, the mask was green, but it turned gray when put into a fire as part of a ritual. It was found in a freshwater spring in the Río Pesquero located in southern Veracruz which also contained other masks and high status jadeite artifacts which were presumably left as offerings.


This is one of the finest Olmec masks in a public collection. The naturalistic features of this masterpiece recall monumental Olmec stone heads rendering historical individuals. Perhaps the portrait of a ruler, this may have been a symbol of state authority or a funerary item. The mask originally was green; the gray color was caused by its being put into a fire, as part of a religious ritual.

Provenance

From Arroyo Pesquero (also called Río Pesquero), Veracruz, Mexico. August 20, 1970, sold by a dealer in Mexico City to Alphonse Jax (dealer), New York; March 23, 1971, sold by Jax to Landon T. Clay, Boston; 1991, year-end gift of Landon Clay to the MFA. (Accession Date: January 22, 1992)

Credit Line

Gift of Landon T. Clay