Art/ Collection/ Art Object


900–400 B.C.
Mexico, Mesoamerica
H. 6 3/4 x W. 6 5/16 in. (17.1 x 16.5 cm)
Stone-Sculpture, Jade
Credit Line:
Bequest of Alice K. Bache, 1977
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 199
Two of these jade faces represent the Olmec Maize God, the preeminent Olmec deity; he can be identified by his upturned lip, easily visible on the mask with the round eyeholes. Olmec masks were not always meant to be worn on the face. One example lacks openings for the eyes and mouth, and perforations along the sides suggest its ritual use as a belt ornament, pectoral, or headdress. The deep blue color of this mask’s jade made it the most valued material for the Olmecs.

Dos de estos rostros de jade representan al Dios del Maíz, la deidad olmeca más importante, identificable por su labio respingado fácilmente visible en la máscara con huecos circulares para los ojos. Las máscaras olmecas no siempre estaban destinadas a ser llevadas sobre los rostros. En uno de los ejemplos se puede ver que faltan las aperturas para los ojos y la boca. Las perforaciones laterales sugieren una función ritual como cinturón ornamental, pectoral o tocado. El azul profundo del jade de esta máscara demuestra que, para los olmecas, éste era el material más valioso.

Further information
Depicting a typical Olmec face with slanted, almond-shaped eyes and a toothless, slightly downturned mouth, this mask is rendered with simplicity and elegance. Its harmonious proportions are indicative of the sophistication attained by Olmec sculptors. The smooth, highly polished planes of cheek, forehead, and chin plus the almost fleshy quality of the nose and parted lips belie the incredible hardness of the jadeite cobble from which the mask was made. The face itself is neither human nor supernatural but, rather, an idealized type that incorporates otherworldly aspects—such as the mouth, with its reference to the so-called were-jaguar, a powerful mythic being with human and jaguar traits.

Masks of this size in stone have not been excavated in archaeological sites and it is difficult to determine their function. Lacking holes for eyes and nose, it could not have been worn over a living face, but there are attachment holes along the edges by means of which it might have been used as a costume element or adhered as a face to a mummy or a sacred bundle. There is a polished, circular depression on the back of the mask.
#1602. Mask
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Milton Arno Leof, Mexico City, 1962–1966; [Everett Rassiga, Inc., New York]; Jay C. Leff, Uniontown, PA, 1966–1970; [Walter Randel Gallery, New York, until 1970]; Alice K. Bache, New York, 1970–(d.)1977

Essays in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961, pp.43-59.

"Works of Art Now on the Market: Supplement." The Burlington Magazine vol. 105, no. 765 (December 1966), pl. V.

Furst, Peter. "The Olmec Were-Jaguar Motif in the Light of Ethnographic Reality.." In Dumbarton Oaks Conference on the Olmec: October 28th and 29th, 1967, edited by Elizabeth P. Benson. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1968, pp. 143–74.

Easby, Elizabeth Kennedy, and John F. Scott. Before Cortez: Sculpture in Middle America. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1970.

Jones, Julie. Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1975–1979. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1979, p. 94.

Jones, Mark. The art of the medal. London, 1979, pp. 91–96.

Dickey, Thomas, Vance Muse, and Henry Wiencek. The God-Kings of Mexico. Treasures of the World. Chicago: Stonehenge Press, 1982, p. 22.

Newton, Douglas, Julie Jones, and Kate Ezra. The Pacific Islands, Africa, and the Americas/The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987, p. 116, fig. 83.

Watts, Edith. The art of ancient Mexico and Peru: Teachers' packet. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1990, p.16, fig. 14.

de la Fuente, Beatriz, ed. Mexico en el mundo de las colecciones de arte. Vol. vol. 2. Mexico: D.R. Primera, 1994, p.29.

Pillsbury, Joanne, Timothy Potts, and Kim N. Richter, eds. Golden Kingdoms: Luxury Arts in the Ancient Americas. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2017, no. 124, p. 209.

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