Jaina-style Whistle Figurine of a Seated Male

Jaina-style Whistle Figurine of a Seated Male

A.D. 600-900
Campeche Jaina Island
Mold-made, hand-finished earthenware with remnants of polychrome paint.
Gift of William I. Lee
. Jaina-style Whistle Figurine of a Seated Male. A.D. 600-900. Mold-made, hand-finished earthenware with remnants of polychrome paint.. Gift of William I. Lee. 1985.640.
height: 7 in, 17.7800 cm; width: 3 in, 7.6200 cm; depth: 3 1/8 in, 7.9375 cm
Mayer Center, Art of the Ancient Americas
Art of the Ancient Americas

Jaina-style Whistle Figurine of a Seated Male
About A.D. 600-900
Mexico, Campeche, possibly Jaina Island
Mold-made, hand-finished earthenware with traces of polychrome paint
Gift of Mr. William I. Lee, 1985.640

This Jaina-style figurine depicts a seated male. He wears a high-waisted kilt with a long loincloth flap that covers his feet. His legs are formed by narrow pieces of hand-rolled clay, and his arms are crossed in front of his chest. His fingers are somewhat carelessly formed, made by cutting gashes into the clay while it was still wet. The relatively rough treatment of his body contrasts against his finely finished details. A large shell pendant suspended on a string provides a simple but impressive necklace. The round indentations in his ears were once filled with inlays and appear to have been originally attached to the round rings below. His segmented headband, tied at the back, also has a circular indentation, likely the remains of an original jade or shell inlay. From the center of the headdress, two tassels or feather tufts spray out to either side, cinched by a central bead. The horizontal lines to either side of the individual's mouth are evidence of facial scarification, commonly practiced by the Maya elite, and his hair, indicated by tidy lines, is cut high along the top of his forehead. His face is nearly identical to that of the Female Ballplayer Figurine in the DAM's collection (1985.635), indicating that faces were not used to differentiate figures' sexes in Jaina-style figurines.

To produce these kinds of figurines, ceramic artists used several techniques. They pressed elements like the face and body into molds, while other features, such as arms, legs, wrapped headdresses, and additional ornamentation, were hand made. As a result, one finds frequent repetition in faces in the Jaina corpus, as many were produced in the same molds.

The mouthpiece of this whistle is located in the top of the right shoulder, with the outlet hole behind the figure's right armpit. Although the purposes of such figurines remain the subject of debate, it appears likely that they were made for funerary rituals and designed to accompany the deceased in the afterlife. Whistle figurines such as this one may have been sounded as part of the funerary rites, before being interred with the deceased.

-Lucia R. Henderson, 2016

Known Provenance
Gifted 27 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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