Ceramic, cinnabar, red ocher; H. 13 3/8 in. (34 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1134)
This pudgy infant holding his hand to his mouth is a remarkable example of an ancient Mesoamerican ceramic tradition. Hollow, sexless, and often almost lifesized, "babies" of this type can be curiously mature, exhibiting individual personalities in manner and posture. The finest are made entirely of ivory-colored kaolin clay, while others are only surfaced with a wash of kaolin slip. Some figures, such as this example, wear distinctive headdresses. What the babies signify is unclear. They may be representatives of elite lineages or early Mexican deities, or both. Infantile figures appear as sacrificial victims throughout Olmec art, and in some cases the ceramic effigies may have served as substitutes for actual infants. Iconographic and stylistic associations exist between the baby figures and monumental stone sculpture at the Olmec sites of San Lorenzo and La Venta, where the acidic soils of the Gulf Coast have destroyed all but fragments of any similar ceramic sculptures. This figure is reported to be from the central highland site of Las Bocas in Puebla, where Olmec-style ceramic objects have been found.