Dominican Republic; Taino
Fossiliferous limestone; H. 6 3/4 in. (17.1 cm)
Purchase, Oscar de la Renta Gift, 1997 (1997.35.2)
The Taino people produced three-cornered stones, known as trigonolitos, over a broad expanse of time that allowed for evolution of their form. Early examples are small in size and believed to have been privately owned, while later larger sculptures may have been used in public ceremony. Trigonolitos are known in plain and decorated examples, and, as they are concave on the bottom, many do not sit comfortably on a flat surface. A prevalent image among them is that of this compelling face, with large, sunken eye sockets and a wide, toothless mouth. The face has a particularly fierce, skeletal aspect, an imposing quality often found in Taino art. This example bears a pattern of concentric circles on its opposite side. It was reportedly found at the site of San Juan de la Maguana in the Dominican Republic, part of one of the major Taino chiefdoms at the end of the fifteenth century. The meaning of much Taino imagery is conjectural, and opinions differ on the trigonolitos. Some believe that they are depictions of deities, while others think they are images needed to intercede with deities.