Mezcala style
100 BCE–200 CE
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General Description

Small carvings of human figures are a common sculptural theme among the various cultural groups of both Central and West Mexico. Lapidary artists favored a variety of precious materials for their small-scale sculptures, including alabaster, obsidian, jade, serpentine, and other varieties of greenstone. This is a fine example of stone carving from Late Formative (Late Preclassic) Guerrero. This region is known for a wide variety of sculptural styles from multiple cultural groups that inhabited this area of southwest Mexico. The most well-known Guerrero style is called Mezcala, primarily small-scale abstract stone sculptures depicting human figures, masks, and temple-like buildings. This example depicts a multi-leveled temple with columns and stairway. Typical of the Mezcala style, the carving appears simple and elementary in form, while also very modern in its abstraction and expression. These carvings may have functioned as models, as they are similar in form to columned stone buildings or funerary structures found throughout Guerrero. It appears that these Mezcala models were re-carved or re-purposed by other cultures throughout later periods, and thus indicate the possible significance of these works as heirlooms or a continuation of former stylistic traditions.

Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias identified the Mezcala lithic, or stone, art style in the 1940s. While the characteristic geometric forms of the figures and temples make them easy to recognize, placing them in time has been challenging, for none had been found in an archaeological context in Guerrero. In 1989, seven objects in the Mezcala style were found beneath the floors of residential complexes at Ahuinahuac, and associated materials have been securely dated to the Late Formative (Late Preclassic) period, between c. 500 and 200 BCE. Other objects in the style have since been found in context, at least one associated with material from the Late Classic period (c. 700–900 CE). Additional contextual information is needed to determine whether the presence of Mezcala-style objects in late contexts represents heirloom status, as it did in the Mezcala style objects found at the Templo Mayor at the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, or a living sculptural tradition that persisted through centuries. The emphasis on stone sculpture in the Guerrero region also suggests an interaction with the Olmec peoples of the Gulf Coast, and many Olmec style objects have been found near this area.

Adapted from

  • Carol Robbins, Label text [1968.4; 1967.11; 1971.62; 1972.40; 1971.61], A. H. Meadows Galleries.
  • Gallery text [West Mexico], A. H. Meadows Galleries.

Web Resources

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Read more about architectural models from the ancient Americas.