Seated hunchback holding mirror

1400–900 BCE
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General Description

Objects that are Olmec in style have been found in such distant areas of Mesoamerica as Tlapacoya and Tlatilco in the Valley of Mexico, Chalcatzingo in Morelos, and Teopantecuanitlan in Guerrero. The relationship between the regional cultures that made or used these items and the Olmec archaeological culture of the Gulf Coast, which is often described as the Olmec heartland, is more debated than understood. The site of Las Bocas, near the modern town of Izúcar de Matamoros in western Puebla, is also a source of ceramics in the Olmec style: blackware bottles and bowls deeply incised with Olmec symbols, animal effigy vessels, hollow babylike figures, and small solid figures with polished white slip.

These deftly modeled miniatures epitomize the refined naturalism of the Las Bocas style (1993.80; 1993.81). Physical deformity is a recurring theme in Mesoamerican art, and a number of Olmec-style objects depict hunchbacks and dwarves, whom the Olmec accorded special status and associated with the supernatural world. Each figure holds an object for which Olmec scholar F. Kent Reilly III has provided a tentative identification. The seated hunchback holds what is probably a mirror (1993.81). Actual Olmec mirrors are made of iron ore (magnetite, ilmenite, or hematite), with a highly polished concave surface that both reflects and inverts an image. It is possible that the Olmec, like later Mesoamerican cultures, used mirrors as tools for shamanic divination and considered them portals to the supernatural world. The reclining hunchback holds a rectangular object that may be a container for pigments used for body painting (1993.80). It might also be a ritual implement, possibly a celt, or stone ax head. Associated with agriculture and maize, celts figured prominently in Olmec ritual and were often deposited in caches.

Adapted from

  • Carol Robbins, Label text [1993.80 and 1993.81], A. H. Meadows Galleries, 2010.

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., "Seated hunchback holding mirror (1993.81) and Seated hunchback holding rectangular object (1993.80)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 38.

  • Carol Robbins, "Seated hunchback holding mirror (1993.81) and Seated hunchback holding rectangular object (1993.80)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Suzanne Kotz (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1997), 184.

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