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By Karl A. Taube

Olmec artwork at Dumbarton Oaks offers the Olmec component to the Robert Woods Bliss selection of Pre-Columbian artwork. It illustrates all thirty-nine Olmec artwork gadgets in colour plates and comprises many complementary and comparative black-and-white illustrations and drawings. The physique of Pre-Columbian paintings that Robert Bliss conscientiously assembled over a half-century among 1912 and 1963, amplified basically a little bit on account that his loss of life, is a remarkably major assortment. as well as their aesthetic caliber and inventive value, the gadgets carry a lot information about the social worlds and spiritual and symbolic perspectives of the folk who made and used them sooner than the arriving of Europeans within the New international.

This quantity is the second one in a chain of catalogues that may deal with gadgets within the Bliss Pre-Columbian assortment. nearly all of the Olmec gadgets within the assortment are made from jade, the main worthy fabric for the peoples of old Mesoamerica from early occasions in the course of the 16th century. numerous goods reminiscent of mask, statuettes, jewellery, and replicas of guns and instruments have been used for ceremonial reasons and served as choices.

Karl Taube brings his services at the lifeways and ideology of old Mesoamerican peoples to his research of the Olmec items in teh Bliss assortment. His figuring out of jade covers a vast diversity of data from chemical compositions to geological assets to craft know-how to the symbolic strength of the golf green stone. in the course of the ebook the writer emphasizes the function of jade as a robust image of water, fertility, and especially, of the maize plant which used to be the elemental resource of lifestyles and sustenance for the Olmec. The glossy eco-friendly of the stone used to be analogous to the fairway development of maize. This basic notion used to be elaborated in particular spiritual ideals, lots of which have been persevered and elaborated via later Mesoamerican peoples, equivalent to the Maya. Karl Taube employs his giant wisdom of Pre-Columbian cultures to discover and explicate Olmec symbolism during this catalogue.

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Nonetheless, solid bit drills were often employed in the manufacturing process. Miguel Covarrubias (1957: 55) suggests that carefully placed drill holes often served as guides for the sculpture, not only for determining the outlines of such features as the eyes and mouth, but also to determine the depth of carving. Many of these holes were retained in finished Olmec carvings for aesthetic effect, particularly in the corners of the mouth and eyes; in some cases, even the holes used for marking depth are apparent.

For example, the front of La Venta Altar 4 contains four forms composed of a U-shaped bracket, a banded celt, and a pair of undulating feathers, probably the emerald tail feathers of the quetzal (Fig. 17c). With this sign, the celts and precious plumage combine to represent silk-tasseled corn, a closely related and valued commodity (Fig. 17c–d). Another Middle Formative sign is composed of a bar-and-four15 Among the Aborigine of western Arnhem Land, Australia, there is Namarrgon, the Lightning Man, “who produces lightning by smashing stone axes attached to his limbs” (Taçon 1991: 195).

Miguel Covarrubias (1957: 55) suggests that carefully placed drill holes often served as guides for the sculpture, not only for determining the outlines of such features as the eyes and mouth, but also to determine the depth of carving. Many of these holes were retained in finished Olmec carvings for aesthetic effect, particularly in the corners of the mouth and eyes; in some cases, even the holes used for marking depth are apparent. An impressive brown jade mask displays the remains of a series of such drill holes in its sunken eye orbit regions (Fig.

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