Posts Tagged ‘artifacts’

Venue: American Museum of Natural History
(212) 769-5100
Central Park West at 79th Street,
New York, NY 10024

The diverse art, architecture, and traditions of the Maya, Toltec, Olmec, Aztec, and other Mesoamerican pre-Columbian cultures are the subjects of this hall. The outstanding collections on display include monuments, figurines, pottery, and jewelry that span from around 1200 B.C. to the early 1500s. Each object provides clues about the political and religious symbols, social traits, and artistic styles of its cultural group.

Especially striking works on view include Costa Rican gold ornaments and a 3,000-year-old Olmec jade sculpture called the Kunz Axe, which may represent a chief or a shaman who transformed himself into a jaguar to partake of the animal’s power. Also displayed are 9th-century Mayan stone carvings depicting scenes of conquest. Existing as early as 1500 B.C., the Mayan culture did not consist of a single empire, but rather was a collection of independent city-states that alternately warred and traded with one another.


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Mata Ortiz has recently seen a revival of an ancient Mesoamerican pottery tradition. Inspired by pottery from the ancient city of Paquimé, which traded as far north as New Mexico and Arizona and throughout northern Mexico, modern potters are producing work for national and international sale. This new artistic movement is due to the efforts of Juan Quezada, the self-taught originator of modern Mata Ortiz pottery, his extended family and neighbors.

Mata Ortiz pots are hand built without the use of a potter’s wheel. Shaping, polishing and painting the clay is entirely done by hand.

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Carved from a porous stone, the body of the reptile is a tightly wound knot; the tail end with two rattles in shallow relief is visible on one side. Its flattened head, emerging from the tangled body at the top, has a pointed, closed mouth, and sunken oval eyes under bulbous supraorbital ridges. The function of this snake sculpture is uncertain.

Serpents held an important place in the belief systems of many peoples in ancient Mexico and they are the most frequently portrayed animals in art. Serpents had multiple connotations and inspired sky and earth imagery alike. Above all, they were fertility symbols, probably suggested by their terrestrial habitat and periodic skin shedding.

At the Main Temple in the Aztec imperial capital Tenochtitlan, serpent depictions proliferate: monumental snake heads, probably representing different species—with open fanged mouths and forked tongues—flank braziers and stairways leading to the sanctuaries. The temple itself is said to have been surrounded at the time of the Spanish conquest by a serpent wall, or Coatepantli, formed by hundreds of adjoining sculptures of snakes. In three-dimensional stone sculpture, serpents are most frequently shown coiled or knotted, as in this example.

Credit and Courtesy: Coiled Serpent [Mexico; Aztec] (00.5.32) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Papel picado (“perforated paper”) is decorative artwork made out of paper cut into elaborate designs. This type of Mexican folk art is commonly cut from tissue paper using a guide and small chisels, creating as many as forty banners at a time.

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The Nahua Indians of Guerrero, Mexico have the amazing skill of painting beautiful designs on paper made from the bark of trees.

Bark paper, or papel amate, is produced by hand in the state of Puebla by Otomi Indians using bark from the mulberry or fig trees. After the bark is washed, boiled, and laid in lines on a wooden board, the fibers are then beaten with a stone until they fuse together.

The Nahua Indians of southern Mexico have excelled for several generations at painting bright village and wildlife scenes on the hand-made paper.

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In pre-Columbian latin america the use of masks dates back some 3,500 years. Priests summoned the Gods by donning masks and they were used in sacrificial rituals. In the last century the use of masks in ceremonies waned. A new phenomena occurred where masks were created for sale rather than for ceremony. Artists created traditional mexican masks in wood and bone portraying the mystery and beauty of the Mexican. These artists leave their mark and their experiences on their work.

[Information credit goes to http://mexicanmasks.net]

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