»smiling figure« or »laughing face«, vermutlich 300 – 900 n. Chr.

About the object

The hollow, yellowish-brown terracotta figure was made using moulds for the various body parts and then carefully assembled. It is a well-preserved specimen of the so-called »smiling figures«: they are representations of young people standing upright, arms raised, short legs and a small belly under a slightly sunken chest. In this instance, the figure is presumably male, based on the loincloth, chest band, neck and ear ornaments and a cap with a typical spiral motif. Little is known about the function or original context of the figures. They were grave goods, perhaps viewed as companions of the dead on the journey through the underworld. Their name derives from their expression, the meaning of which is obscure - perhaps a consequence of the ritual imbibing of the alcoholic beverage pulque.
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On the Gulf Coast of Mexico, between 1200 and 600 BCE, the early high culture of the Olmecs laid the foundation for subsequent Mesoamerican/Precolumbian cultures. Even then, hollow figures were produced from terracotta, a craft that was later developed to a high level of perfection and artistic quality. Especially the classical period of south-central Vera Cruz culture (300-900 CE) produced numerous masterful representations of human form, some of which are more than one metre high. The so-called "laughing" or "smiling faces" (remojadas or sonrientes in Spanish) also belong to this period. They depict young men and women with broad faces and a small, slightly overhanging belly under a slightly sunken breast. This smiling figure most probably depicts a man with a loincloth, a chest band, neck and ear jewellery and a hat with the typical spiral motif. Such sculptures were formed with the help of models for the different parts of the body and then carefully assembled. We know little about their function: they were funerary objects, perhaps intended to accompany the deceased on his journey through the underworld. In contrast to the numerous depictions of people in ancient Mexican art, which depict strict, majestic or even tormented expressions, the remojadas group of figures conveys an altogether cheerful mood. With their smiling expressions and raised arms, they seem to be dancing. But whether these sculptures express a certain joie de vivre, ecstasy or ritual intoxication is a matter for conjecture; similarly, we can only speculate whether they are associated with deities of play, dance and music. Author: Eva Gerhards, Translation: Timothy Connell

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