Kneeling male figure

800–400 BCE
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General Description

The carved stone images Olmec kings wore on their foreheads and chests projected supernatural power. A great king also possessed small sculptures, such as this carved serpentine figurine that depicts a crouching or kneeling man with both hands resting on the front of the knees. There are small holes on the earlobes and finely incised lines indicate the figure may be wearing a loincloth, but further costume details are absent. The large, vacant eyes may indicate a state of trance, a bridge between the natural and supernatural worlds. His facial features are common among Olmec figurines and may relate to the were-jaguar motif, a human-jaguar supernatural figure that is prominent in Olmec art. The term were-jaguar refers to the merging of human and jaguar characteristics, an analogy with the term werewolf. This work depicts the king's own transformation from a human into a magical animal. The incorporation of animal attributes suggests that the Olmec held animals in high regard and may have attempted to channel the power of such creatures. Objects such as these accompanied the king on his journey through death to the otherworld.

Adapted from

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

  • F. Kent Reilly, PhD, DMA unpublished material [1973.17], 1992.