Figure Holding Child

Date: 4th–7th century

Geography: Ecuador

Culture: Bahia

Medium: Ceramic

Dimensions: Overall: 21 in. (53.3 cm)

Classification: Ceramics-Sculpture

Credit Line: Gift of Timothy, Peter, and Jonathan Zorach, 1991

Accession Number: 1991.436.6


The Bahía peoples on Ecuador's central coast continued the long tradition of ceramic figurine making. Begun in the region in the third millennium B.C., it persisted until the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. Bahía figurines are numerous and vary in style, size, and technique. Some are modeled by hand, others are made in molds. Still others are partially mold-made and partially hand modeled, as is the case here. The striking large, hollow figure made of thick clay depicts a seated woman with her short legs stretched out in front. She holds a small figure, perhaps an infant, as if presenting it. Broad-shouldered, she wears a simple necklace while her lower body is covered with a patterned skirt, and on her disproportionately large head is a caplike headdress. Small nose rings and ear ornaments embellish both figures. Yellow, red, white, and black paint was applied after firing.

Bahía figures were probably part of ritual activity. An archaeological site on La Plata Island yielded a large pile of fragments estimated to represent about a thousand figurines. Perhaps this was a pilgrimage site where offerings were ritually broken and deposited.