Standing Woman with Body Paint and Heavily Painted Face

Standing Woman with Body Paint and Heavily Painted Face

500–800 CE
Greater Nicoya
Costa Rica
Galo Polychrome
Accession Number
Credit Line
Gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer

Unknown artist, Greater Nicoya, Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Standing Woman with Body Paint and Heavily Painted Face, 500–800 CE. Ceramic, 13 x 6 x 4 x inches. Denver Art Museum Collection: Gift of the Collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 1993.457. 

height: 13 in, 33.0200 cm; width: 6 in, 15.2400 cm; depth: 4 in, 10.1600 cm
Mayer Center, Arts of the Ancient Americas
Arts of the Ancient Americas
This object is currently on view

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.