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

By Philip Drucker | Go to book overview

motif, which as Spinden has demonstrated is such a basic and important feature of Mayan art, never appears.

Decorative elements. --The following motifs occur in the sparingly decorated areas often enough to make them fairly diagnostic traits:

Open rectangles, usually round cornered,
Rectangles enclosed within others, usually asymmetrically,
L-shaped (or wider-angled) elements with split or notched ends,
Notched rectangles or thick-armed truncated V figures,
Flaring U-shaped elements with outcurved tips (perhaps derivations from
the mouth form of the Jaguar-monster mask),
Simple, rather short and stiff feather motifs.

Sporadic elements. --In addition to the nondiagnostic traits mentioned in the discussion of representations of human beings under (3) postures, and (4) dress, there are a series of motifs and elements in the art style which are not distinctive. That is to say, unless they appear in conjunction with some diagnostic element or elements, as above, they cannot be relied on to assign an object to the art style. These include: sporadically used faunal themes (the monkey, the kinkajou (?), etc.), beards on human figures, the X-shaped design element, bordering rows of triangles, occasional use of simple scrolls, and occasional use of simple plant (or "floral") motifs.


AREAL RELATlONSHIPS OF THE ART STYLE

The purpose of the present section is not to discuss the areal range from which stray pieces assignable to this art have come, but to draw comparisons with sculptural complexes of surrounding regions. We shall discuss materials from nearby southern Veracruz, Central Veracruz, the Maya area, Oaxaca, and the Valley of México, in that order. It would be a nearly endless task to deal with this vast corpus of material in any detail, of course. Consequently, summary characterizations of the carver's art in each region will be drawn upon where available, except in the case of the first region of our list.


SOUTHERN VERACRUZ AND ADJACENT REGIONS

Comparisons in the southern Veracruz region are of necessity restricted principally to the site of Tres Zapotes. It would be a useless piece of academic virtuosity to approach the problem of the comparison of the sculptural arts of La Venta and Tres Zapotes as though the relationship between the two sites was unknown. La Venta, as ceramic comparisons indicate, represents one segment, or temporal horizon, of Tres Zapotes culture. The longer occupation at the latter site comprises a series of such segments, Upper, Middle, and Lower.

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