The city of Tiwanaku near the southern shore of Lake Titicaca in the Bolivian highlands has been renowned for its stone architecture and imposing, finely carved stone sculptures since the sixteenth century. A small version of a type of columnar stone image that existed at Tiwanaku in sizes that reach twenty-four feet in height, this figure is thought to depict an elite lineage founder. While the full-size sculptures may have been part of public rituals honoring ancestors, the smaller version may have been for private ceremonies conducted by upper-class families or clans.
Contained within the roughly rectangular confines of the stone block, the figure has a large head topped by a plain cap with a chin strap. Prominent square, slightly bulging eyes have small profile animal heads incised below them like a band of tears. The figure holds two objects—possibly snuff trays—with stylized, symmetrical hands tightly clasped to his unclad chest. A patterned kilt with a delicately incised design of stylized faces and squares in diagonals covers the lower body. It is an arrangement known from textiles of the period. A wide belt encircles the waist to keep the kilt in place. It is decorated with rayed medallions reminiscent of the rayed face of Tiwanaku's principal deity.
[Louis Slavitz, New York, until 1959]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1959, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1959–1978
Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art. Pre-Columbian art of Latin America, 10th century B.C.-16th century A.D. Ithaca: Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art, Cornell University, 1966, 113.
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, no. 504.
The American Federation of Arts. Primitive Art Masterworks: an exhibition jointly organized by the Museum of Primitive Art and the American Federation of Arts, New York. New York: The American Federation of Arts, 1974, no. 40.
Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 127.
Newton, Douglas, Julie Jones, and Kate Ezra. The Pacific Islands, Africa, and the Americas. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987, no. 116, p. 156.