Jaina-style Rattle of a Vulture-Headed Figure

Jaina-style Rattle of a Vulture-Headed Figure

A.D. 600-900
Campeche Jaina Island
Mold-made of red clay with traces of polychrome paint.
Anonymous Gift
. Jaina-style Rattle of a Vulture-Headed Figure. A.D. 600-900. Mold-made of red clay with traces of polychrome paint.. Anonymous Gift. 1983.412.
height: 4 3/8 in, 11.1125 cm; width: 3 in, 7.6200 cm
Mayer Center, Art of the Ancient Americas
Art of the Ancient Americas

Jaina-Style Rattle of a Vulture-Headed Figure
About A.D. 600-900
Mexico, Campeche region, possibly Jaina Island
Earthenware with colored paint
Anonymous Gift, 1983.412

This mold-made Jaina-style rattle depicts a vulture-headed figure with a human body. Vultures are commonly seen in ancient Maya art. A vulture head, for instance, is used as a hieroglyph in one of the most commonly used phrases for the accession of kings. Vultures in general, as winged harbingers of death, appear to have been associated with omens, transitions, sacrifice, and both celestial and underworldly themes. On this figurine, the vulture face is simply but boldly rendered, with remnants of blue paint around the eyes. The long beak is tucked closely against the body, as are the arms and hands. The figure wears a long beaded necklace and a long skirt marked along the edge with a black-painted border. The figure also wears decorative shoulder ornaments (much like epaulets) and a large, rolled turban-like headdress.

Although this could represent a supernatural, it more likely represents a human figure wearing a vulture mask. It is unclear whether the figurine represents a female or a male, though the length of the skirt suggests it is a female. The two small objects in the figure's hands are likely rattles, indicating that this is a musician, captured in the midst of a musical performance of some kind. The two holes above the figure's forearms and holes in the back of the figure serve both as exit-holes for firing and as a means of amplifying the rattling sound this figurine would have made during use (the rattling elements within the figure are probably small clay pellets). This figurine, then, does not simply represent a static image of a musician but would have been used itself to produce music.

To create this figurine, the artist pressed clay into a ceramic mold. He then finished it by hand, adding three dimensional depth to arms, hands, and clothing, as well as adding in details such as the epaulets and necklace. The figurine was then painted in bright polychrome paint after firing.

For a similar figurine, please see 1971.402.

-Lucia R. Henderson, 2016

Known Provenance
Gifted 30 December 1983 by an anonymous donor 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.
Exhibition History
  • "Pre-Columbian Flora and Fauna"-- Mingei Museum of International Folk Art, 9/16/1990-2/17/1991.
  • "Grand Gestures"-- Denver Art Museum, 12/2015-12/2016

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