Jaina-Style Whistle Figurine of a Dwarf (one of a pair)

Jaina-Style Whistle Figurine of a Dwarf (one of a pair)

A.D. 600-900
Campeche Jaina Island
Mold-made, hand-finished earthenware with post-firing paint.
Gift of Mr. William I. Lee
. Jaina-Style Whistle Figurine of a Dwarf (one of a pair). A.D. 600-900. Mold-made, hand-finished earthenware with post-firing paint.. Gift of Mr. William I. Lee. 1985.628A.
height: 9 in, 22.8600 cm; width: 2 7/8 in, 7.3025 cm; depth: 2 1/4 in, 5.7150 cm
Mayer Center, Art of the Ancient Americas
Art of the Ancient Americas

Jaina-Style Whistle Figurine of a Dwarf (one of a pair)
About A.D. 600-900
Mexico, Campeche region, possibly Jaina Island
Earthenware with colored pigment
Gift of Mr. William I. Lee, 1985.628A

This Jaina-style figurine depicts a dwarf standing with his feet spread apart and his hands resting on his hips. He is bare-chested, and his clothing is restricted to a simple, wrapped loincloth. He wears a large shell pectoral on his chest, an ornament generally associated with elite individuals. He also wears a padded cotton turban, bound with a ribbon and marked by a central jade ornament in the shape of a flower. Atop the turban is the head of a deer. To sound the whistle, one must blow into a hole located at the back lower edge of the figurine, producing a low, hollow sound.

This figurine is one of a matched pair (see 1985.628b). Both figurines were originally made from the same mold, but differences in their details indicate that each was finished by a different artist. Although this figurine has four small scarification disks on his forehead, overall he lacks the detail and elegance of his mate. This example, for instance, has a less finely-modeled body and limbs. The faces also differ markedly in craftsmanship, with this example much more roughly made. The jewelry and headdress of this figure are also less well finished than those of his partner. This is especially clear if one compares the bulky earflare he wears against the delicate detail of that worn by his mate.

Dwarves and other individuals with unusual, extraordinary, or deformed bodies were considered particularly sacred in the ancient Maya world, as they were believed to have been touched by the gods. Dwarves are frequently seen in palace scenes on painted Maya vessels and often interact closely with kings, indicating that they were considered high-status participants in royal life. It is possible that this pair of figurines was intended to accompany a deceased ruler to the Otherworld, ensuring the full participation of his courtiers during his afterlife.

--Lucia R. Henderson, 2016

Known Provenance
Gifted 12 December 1985 by Mr. William I. Lee to 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.

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