The Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas
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Native America


Pre-Columbian Americas
Olmec culture, Santa Cruz, Mexico
Vessel in the Form of an Old Woman
Early Formative period, 1200–900 B.C.
H. 8 1/2 in. (21.6 cm)
Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection
Indiana University Art Museum, 2010.49

The old woman depicted here is both skeletonized and rotund. The latter feature, combined with the pose, which is a traditional one among Mexican Indians for giving birth, suggests a young woman, while the wrinkled face, drooping breasts, and skeletal ribs imply one much older. Dualities of this sort (old/young, life/death) are found throughout the history of pre-Columbian art, but this particular image may refer to a deity who was believed to be the ancient mother of all gods and humans, and who, along with her consort, determined exactly when a person would be born.