Dog with human mask

100 BCE–200 CE
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General Description

The preclassic cultures of West Mexico occupied the modern states of Jalisco, Nayarit, and Colima, where artisans produced a variety of ceramic figures in distinctive regional styles. This ceramic dog is from Late Preclassic (Late Formative) Colima. This region is known for a wide variety of sculptural styles from multiple cultural groups that inhabited this area of Western Mexico, though it is best known for its distinctive ceramics. It is believed that many of these ceramic vessels were included among funerary goods of the elite.

Dogs have great importance throughout the ancient Americas and are commonly depicted in mythical stories and in various artistic representations. Red-slipped, hollow clay effigies of short-legged, hairless, fattened dogs are numerous in Colima funerary art. They may represent the now extinct Tepescuintli breed, a dog once raised for both food and companionship in Mesoamerica, and physically similar to the present-day Xolo or Mexican Hairless (Xoloitzcuintli). Unifying form and function, the spout of the vessel comprises the tail of the animal. Usually the dogs appear in naturalistic, expressive poses, but others, including this example, wear a human mask similar to life-size masks often included in Colima burials. The mask may have indicated supernatural status for the dog, linking it to the ancient belief in the supernatural dog as spirit guide for human dead through the underworld. Dog effigies, such as this example, may have been placed in burials to accompany and guard the soul of their deceased master in the afterlife.

Adapted from

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

  • Gallery text [West Mexico], A. H. Meadows Galleries.

  • Kathy Windrow, DMA unpublished material, 1992.

Web Resources

  • PBS
    Watch a clip from an Antique's Roadshow appraisal of a Colima dog figure.

  • American Kennel Club (AKC)
    Learn more about the Mexican Hairless or Xolo (Xoloitzcuintli) dog.