Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Palma with Skeletal Figure

7th–10th century
Mexico, Mesoamerica, Veracruz, Nautla region (?)
Stone, pigment
H. 18 7/8 x W. 7 x D. 4 3/4 in. (47.9 x 17.8 x 12.1 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1963
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 358
The ballgame, one of the elements that unites and defines Mesoamerican cultures, may have originated on the Gulf Coast of Veracruz. This notion is supported by the ubiquitous presence of ballcourts, including at least seventeen at El Tajín, the frequent depiction of ballplayers in the region, and the elaborate nature of Gulf Coast ballplayer accoutrements. In Veracruz, the yoke and hacha pair is joined by a third element of protective attire, the palma. The palma rests atop the yoke and extends up the front of the ballplayer's chest to protect the major organs from the impact of the hard rubber ball used in the ballgame. In contrast to the less weighty palmas used in play, stone palmas, perhaps ritual objects or prized trophies, vary from the unadorned to the heavily ornamented. The front surface of this palma is carved with an exuberant relief pattern of scrolls surrounding and partially covering the contorted anthropomorphic figure splayed out across the surface. The skeletal face of the figure protrudes significantly from the surface of the object. Given the brutality of the ballgame and the apparent resulting sacrifice, the scrolls are thought to symbolize blood.
[Stendahl Art Galleries, Hollywood, CA, until 1956]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1956, on loan to Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1956–1963; Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1963–1978

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, 582.

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978.

Newton, Douglas, Julie Jones, and Kate Ezra. The Pacific Islands, Africa, and the Americas. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987.

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