La Venta, Tabasco: a Study of Olmec Ceramics and Art

By Philip Drucker | Go to book overview

STYLISTIC CHARACTERS OF THE SCULPTURES

In view of the association of the small jade carvings and the stone monuments with what appears to be a one-horizon site, it seems reasonable to assume that they are not only contemporaneous but made by the same people. It is theoretically possible for two strains of art, originally unrelated, to coexist in the same culture particularly if this culture has been subject to varied alien influences. Such a situation expectably would result in a hybrid aspect of the art, with stylistic differences conforming to the different complexes of media and techniques. Of course, if, as seems to be the case in the La Venta situation, all of the art expressions can be shown to be related, it does not mean that there have been no outside influences, but rather that the art style itself was dominant. Thus new traits and complexes, whether use of jade ornaments, or erection of stelae, would have been modified to admit the motifs and methods of representation deemed appropriate by the art style. The broader cultural implications of such a situation need not concern us for a moment, but it is important to note that if we can relate the carvings large and small artistically, we thereby widen our range of comparison with other cultures. If, that is to say, we can demonstrate that style transcended medium and details of sculpturing techniques at La Venta, we need not restrict comparisons to, let us say, small jade figurines and pendants in the form of jaguar teeth from other regions, but may legitimately compare, pointing out similarities and differences, stone monuments, stelae, and any other relief representations on which we have data in adjacent culture provinces. We shall begin with a discussion of the characteristics of representations of the human figure, first in the small jade figurines, and then in the monuments; next, jaguar representations; and finally a series of miscellaneous motifs and decorative elements.


REPRESENTATION OF THE HUMAN FORM

Front view ,--The most significant stylistic features of the figurines appear in the series of line drawings of their component parts (fig. 55). In the upper row, the head-and-face outlines show a typically elongated head outline, apparently resulting from artificial deformation (which appears in many profile views). Also typical is the great bigonial width of the outlines, and the massiveness of the jaws. The typical head and face outline varies from that of an elongate rectangle with rounded corners to a slightly pyriform shape with maximum width at the base. Figurine 8 is the only one departing widely from this norm. Eye sockets are typically formed by deep-drilled pits, with a preference for blunt-ended elliptical outlines. Probably all were inlaid with materials of contrasting colors. Orientation of the eyes varies from straight to forms with a slight downslant at the outer

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