Whistle Figurine of a Seated Woman

Whistle Figurine of a Seated Woman

600–900 CE
Campeche Jaina Island
whistle, figurine
Ceramic with pigment applied after firing
Accession Number
Credit Line
Museum Purchase

Unknown Maya artist, Possibly Jaina Island, Campeche region, Mexico. Whistle Figurine of a Seated Woman, 600–900 CE. Ceramic with pigment applied after firing, 7 ⅝ x 5 x 3 inches. Denver art Museum Collection: Museum purchase, 1969.333.

height: 7 5/8 in, 19.3675 cm; width: 5 in, 12.7000 cm; depth: 3 in, 7.6200 cm
Mayer Center, Art of the Ancient Americas
Art of the Ancient Americas
This object is currently on view

Jaina-Style Whistle Figurine of a Seated Woman
About A.D. 600-900
Mexico, Campeche region, possibly Jaina Island
Earthenware with colored paint
Museum Purchase, 1969.333

This Jaina-style clay whistle shows a cross-legged woman sitting with her hands resting gently on her knees. She is dressed in a long skirt and an elegant off-the-shoulder huipil (a traditional blouse shaped much like a poncho), painted with an offset panel of bright blue. A stepped fringe of hair frames her face, and she wears a diadem jewel, a beaded necklace (likely of shells and jade), large jade earspools, and bracelets composed of shell or jade plaques. The narrow horizontal designs at either side of her mouth are the results of scarification, a common practice of the ancient Maya elite. The unadorned, cleft cap she wears is frequently seen on seated female Jaina figurines. Its unelaborated nature and the notch within it (which has unfinished edges), suggests these women once wore more complex headdresses, possibly of perishable materials.  

To produce these figurines, ceramic artists used several techniques. They pressed elements like the face and body into molds, while other features, such as arms, legs, and additional ornamentation, were hand made. As a result, one finds frequent repetition in faces in Jaina figurines, as many were produced in the same molds. The bodies, however, generally differ in both scale and details. The face and headdress of this figurine, for instance, are repeated on several other Jaina examples, though the details of her clothing and jewelry are unique to this particular piece.

The whistle chamber is housed inside her proper right shoulder, with the exit hole at her proper right shoulder blade. Blowing into the hole in her shoulder produces a low whistling noise.

--Lucia R. Henderson, 2016

Known Provenance
Purchased 2 April 1969 by the Denver Art Museum. Provenance research is on-going at the Denver Art Museum. Please e-mail provenance@denverartmuseum.org, if you have questions, or if you have additional information to share with us.

Some images in our online collection are at thumbnail size, in accordance with AAMD guidelines, because they are protected by copyright. The Denver Art Museum respects the rights of artists or their representatives who retain the copyright to their work. Other images represent the best photography available and should be used as reference images only. Please complete the Image Rights Request form if you want to request a high resolution image.