Mixtec artisans excelled at lapidary work and were famous for their extraordinarily refined miniature carvings made in a variety of materials, creating objects of virtually perfect design and workmanship. Smaller decorative ornaments were part of the larger elaborate costume accoutrements for nobility—often worn on the face, forehead, and chest—and projected both elite status and supernatural power.
The design and execution of this obsidian labret is perfectly balanced, meeting the Mixtec standards of excellence. Black obsidian was also an important trade good from the volcanic highlands, which would further indicate the luxury and status associated with such items carved from this precious material. It would have originally been worn inserted into a hole in or near the lower lip, so that the cylindrical part projects, while the lateral wings fit behind the lip for stability. The Codex Zouche-Nuttall, the manuscript narrating the sacred history of the Mixtecs, depicts elaborately costumed Mixtec lords wearing labrets. The codex paintings show that when a Mixtec chief was made a lord, his lip was pierced by the claw of an eagle or a jaguar.
Carol Robbins, Label text [1968.20], A. H. Meadows Galleries, 2010.
Kathy Windrow, DMA unpublished material, 1992.
DMA unpublished material, 2009.
Getty Vocabulary, AAT (labrets (jewelry): AAT: 300211525).