Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Ceremonial Metate

10th–11th century
Costa Rica
Atlantic Watershed
H. 9 x Diam.14 3/4 in. (22.9 x 37.5 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1969
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 357
Decorated metates carved of volcanic stone originated in the utilitarian forms that were used for grinding foodstuffs, primarily corn, in Precolumbian America. Central American examples, such as this metate, were so extensively embellished that ritual offering table use is presumed. Some authorities believe they had connections to rulership and may have functioned as thrones. Six human-feline or monkey figures on a circular base here support the tablelike plate. Their teeth are ferociously bared and fists clenched. Facing outward, they aggressively protect the space circumscribed by their bodies. Each figure's tail buttresses the elbow of its neighbor, creating a fluid movement from one body to the next and weaving a barrier of defense. Two of them break from the pattern and have a fist to the mouth rather than extending upward. The expressiveness of the figures and visual complexity serve to give the work its artistic import.
[Jerome M. Eisenberg, Royal Athena Galleries, New York, until 1962]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1962, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1962–1969; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1969–1978

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, no. 543.

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