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Olmec Baby Figures

Seated, life-size baby figures are among the most intriguing ceramic works from Precolumbian Mexico. Many hypotheses exist about who they represent: they could be portraits of infants, infantilized portraits of adults, infant forms of deities, or emblems of royal descent. Created by artists between 1200 and 400 BC, these Olmec-style baby figures are white-slipped and hollow. Some portray well-fed children making infantile gestures. 

Olmec sated Figure

 

This figure holds a chubby finger to its mouth and is one of the largest and most well known examples. An elaborate headpiece is colored red-pink with powdered cinnabar and red ochre that was probably used to anoint the tomb in which this figure was placed. Most intact Olmec ceramics have been found in burials in the central Mexican highlands. This figure is said to come from the highland site of Las Bocas in Puebla, Mexico.

 

Seated Figure Olmec ca 1200 - 900 bce Image:  Kimbell Art Museum

Seated Figure

Olmec ca 1200 - 900 bce

Image:  Kimbell Art Museum

Olmec Seated Figure
Seated Figure, Olmec Mexico ca. 1000 - 500 bce Image:  Denver Art Museum

Seated Figure, Olmec

Mexico ca. 1000 - 500 bce

Image:  Denver Art Museum

The Olmec produced the first known complex culture in Central America.  Their surviving settlements feature sacred centers composed of plazas, mounds and pyramids and ceremonial centers that are thought to have featured the colossal heads they are so famous for.  Their art set the standard for those to follow, and for a so called origin civilization they start with the pinnacle of modernist, realistic depictions of people and places, of which these baby figures are but one example.

These figure have lifelike proportions and subtle muscles, emphasizing the sensitivity of the Olmec artist.  At first impression, we think of these figures as doll, but given the context we presume that they must contain an important ceremonial function.  Just what that function is however, is  a mystery.

 

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