Seated "hollow baby"

1200–400 BCE
more object details

General Description

Hollow pottery baby figurines are a common theme in Olmec art, where they represent the capacity of kings to regenerate life out of death. They are known as baby-face figurines because they exhibit plump bodies and facial features similar to an infant. They are normally depicted in a seated position, with arms raised and legs spread, and nude with no indication of gender. Some figures, such as this one, wear distinctive headdresses. Other common features include almond-shaped or small slit-like eyes, a large sloping forehead that may indicate cranial deformation, and a merging of human and animal traits that may refer to the were-jaguar motif, a human-like figure with a down-turned mouth, cleft head, and almond-shaped eyes. Massive stone thrones found in the Gulf Coast Olmec centers of San Lorenzo and La Venta depict kings holding supernatural "were-jaguar" infants. Perhaps figures such as this one were used in rituals.

Drawn from

  • Carol Robbins, Label text [1971.40], A. H. Meadows Galleries, 2010.

  • Carol Robbins, DMA unpublished material.

  • "Olmec Baby-Face Figurines." In Khan Academy. The British Museum, 2015.

  • "Baby Figure" [Mexico; Olmec]" (1979.206.1134) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2006).

Fun Facts

  • This figure seems unusually heavy, and the parallel scratches on the surface seem odd. Moreover, the use of black resinous paint may be associated more with Veracruz style ceramics—particularly workshop pieces—than with Olmec ceramic sculpture.

Web Resources

Khan Academy
Read more about Olmec baby-face figurines.