Woman with Body Paint

Woman with Body Paint

AD 500-800
Culture
Greater Nicoya
Country
Costa Rica
Style/Tradition
Galo Polychrome
figurine
Gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer
1993.457
. Woman with Body Paint. AD 500-800. Gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer. 1993.457.
This object is currently on view
Dimensions
height: 13 in, 33.0200 cm; width: 6 in, 15.2400 cm; depth: 4 in, 10.1600 cm
Department
Mayer Center, Art of the Ancient Americas
Collection
Art of the Ancient Americas

Young Woman with Body Paint
Galo Polychrome style
About A.D. 500–800
Costa Rica, Greater Nicoya region
Earthenware with colored slips
Gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 1993.457

This medium-size figure portrays a young woman who stands upright with firmly planted feet and hands resting on hips.  Her gaze is slightly downcast, lending her a modest, contemplative expression.  The woman’s only clothing is an elaborately decorated pubic cover, a thonglike garment suspended from a strap around the hips with a cord that passes between the legs.  Triangular ceramic pubic covers were worn by pre-Columbian peoples in the Marajo Island region of the Brazilian Amazon, but none have been discovered in Costa Rica.  This suggests that Costa Rican women’s garments were made of cloth, bark cloth, or some other organic material that is not preserved by the region’s damp climate.

Although scantily clad, the figure is by no means unadorned – nearly her entire body is covered with elaborate body painting.  The figure’s hands and feed are red, suggesting that this is the woman’s skin color.  If so, then hands, feet, neck, and a panel around the eyes are virtually the only areas left unpainted.  The rest of the body was covered with cream-colored coating, perhaps clay or chalk, against which the black painted designs stood out vividly.  Such elaborate decoration would have taken much time and skill to apply, suggesting that the woman portrayed here is a participant in an important event – possibly a coming-of-age ceremony.