Monumental Jaguar Sculpture


This painted buff ceramic sculpture was made in southern Veracruz, Mexico, in 600-900 AD, or the Late Classic Period of Mesoamerican civilization. Scholars traditionally have defined Mesoamerica as a cultural region comprising the modern countries of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras, and El Salvador. Its history is divided into an Archaic Period (circa 12,000-1500 BC), a Preclassic or Formative Period (circa 1500 BC-200 AD), a Classic Period (circa 200-900 AD), and a Postclassic Period (circa 900-1500 AD). The tropical jaguar was a major sacred creature in much of Mesoamerica, whose peoples believed that they possessed animal companion spirits or co-essences. These animal or composite forms were often depicted in various media. In this sculpture, the modeling of the body is more human than feline, connoting the deification of the animal. Jaguars were the special patrons and protectors of kings, as well as deities representing the sun in its nocturnal aspect. Many Mayan kings selected the name “Balam,” meaning “jaguar,” on ascending to the throne. This particular sculpture is unusual because it is a full figure. Originally, it may have flanked the throne of a Mayan lord or king.

Last updated: March 22, 2016