An important life-size mask
Olmec, La Venta culture
Intermediate period, 900-600 BCE
Mexico, probably southern Veracruz / Tabasco region
Jadeite-omphacite with traces of a red pigment
7"H x 6"W (17.5cm x 15cm)
In very fine condition with exceptional preservation of the original high polish across the surface. Ample mineral and soil deposits are present (see Ciram report for further details)
Provenance: BG Malone, private collection, TX, collected 1960's, and in the USA prior to 1970
This grand, life-sized mask is made of a beautiful jadeite-omphacite as evidenced by its rich, deep green, mottled coloration and lustrous polish.
The heavy, thick facial features of this mask make it seem portrait-like in appearance, with fleshy lips, cheeks, jowls, and nose. The perforated irises bring an intensity to the eyes of the mask, engaging the viewer in a challenging stare. It has been fully-modeled in a life-like manner - sensual, yet stern.
The reverse side has been deeply hollowed out, which would have allowed the mask to be worn; sets of bi-conical holes have been drilled below each ear and at the upper corners, further supporting this idea. The interior of the mask has not been as highly polished as the front and sides, though it is finished out and smooth. The nostrils have been drilled through and the mouth is open to the back.
There is still no strong agreement as to how these larger, openwork masks were used. It has been suggested they were tied to funerary bundles but no direct, scientific evidence has been recovered to support this idea. Other theories propose this type of highly individualized mask was made in effigy of an ancestor, and by putting it on, the wearer would bring to life the memory of the deceased.
For comparable examples see: THE OLMEC WORLD: RITUAL AND RULERSHIP, The Art Museum, Princeton University, 1996, #182, pgs. 266-267,
#186. pgs. 268-269, #187, p. 270, #188, p.271, #189, p.272, #190, p.273, and # 191, p.274.