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An investigation of the design of the ceramic figurines produced by the chief cultures of pre-Columbian Mexico

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A Thesis
Presented to
the Faculty of the Department of Fine Arts
University of Southern California
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree
Master of Arts
Everett Gee lackson
February 1940
UMI Number: EP57815
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UMI EP57815
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T h i s thesisj w r i t t e n by
u n d e r the d ir e c t io n o f
F a cu lty C om m ittee,
a n d a p p r o v e d b y a l l its m e m b e r s , has been
p r e s e n t e d to a n d a c c e p t e d b y t he C o u n c i l on
G ra d u a t e S t u d y a n d Research in p a r t i a l f u l f i l l ­
m e n t o f the re q u ir e m e n ts f o r the d egree o f
D a te
F aculty Com m ittee
The p r o b l e m ...............................
Statement of the p r o b l e m ..................
Importance of the s t u d y ....................
Organization of thesis
. .
D e s i g n .................................
F o r m ...................................
Art f o r m ...............................
Felt relationship.......................
E x p r e s s i o n ....................
General meaning of terms
Material form
Specific meaning of t e r m s .................
D e s i g n ...........
Material f o r m ...........................
Art f o r m ...............................
Space r e l a t i o n s h i p ......................
Centripetal f o r m .......................
Centrifugal f o r m .......................
The art m e d i u m .........................
Literature on the general history of PreColumbian Mexican c u l t u r e s ..........
Literature on the cultures of the Valley of
M e x i c o ..............................
Literature on the cultures outside the
Valley of M e x i c o .......................
Figurines of the archaic t y p e ..........
Later figurines of the Tarascantype
The Early C u l t u r e s ....................
The Toltec Period and the MazapanCulture
. .
The Aztec P e r i o d ......................
IX. CONCLUSIONS..............................
I. Spiridon*s Distribution of Archaic Figurines
. .
Some Principal Sites in Valley of Mexico . . . .
The Maya A r e a ................................
The Culture Regions of M e x i c o ................
Parallel Frontal Plane Arrangement in Zapotecan
F i g u r i n e s .................................
Plane Arrangement in Zapotecan Figurines . . . .
1. Zapotecan figurine
2. Main horizontal and vertical divisions in
Zapotecan figurine
3. Main lines of action in Zapotecan figurine
4. Rhythmic action in Zapotecan figurine
5. Main horizontal directions in Zapotecan fig­
urine .......................................
6. Main horizontal and vertical divisions in a
Zapotecan figurine
7. Rhythmic character in a Zapotecan figurine
Zapotecan figurines .........................
8. Parallel, frontal plane arrangement in
9. Action of triangular planes in Zapotecan
f i g u r i n e ...................................
10. Principle of arrangement of planes in Zapotecan
f i g u r i n e ...................................
11. Action lines which affect horizontal plane on
which Zapotecan figurine rests
12. Vertical, horizontal, and rhythmic relationships
in Zapotecan figurine .......................
13. Zapotecan figurine showing comparatively
naturalistic f o r m ...........................
14. Zaootecan figurine showing Mayan influence
15. Maya figurine..................................
16. Maya figurine from Santa Rita, British
H o n d u r a s ...................................
17. Maya figurine showing curvilinear rhythm
18. Maya clay vessel with head, Santa R i t a ........
19. Late mouldmade type of Maya f i g u r i n e ..........
20. Maya head f o r m s ................................
21. Maya figurine..................................
22. Main action lines in a Maya f i g u r i n e ..........
23. Main action lines in a Maya f i g u r i n e ..........
24. Maya figurine showing aesthetic effect in
expression of violent features
25. Tarascan figurine ..............................
26. Line drawing of Tarascan figurine..............
27. Angular character of Tarascan design.. ..........
28. Archaic type head from near Lake Chapala . . . .
29.1. Line drawing of side view of archaic type head;
2.Drawing to show construction of same head . . . .
Angular action in archaic type h e a d ............
31. Tarascan figurine ..............................
32. Angular action in Tarascan figurine ............
33. archaic type figurine from near LakeChapala
. .
34. Figurine from near T e p i c ......................
55. Archaic type bowl, Chapala district ............
36. Laughing Totonac head
37. Laughing Totonac head
38. Totonac f i g u r i n e ..........................
39. Main action lines in Totonac figurine..........
Archaic type head from near Vera C r u z ..........
Concentric movement in archaic type head
42. Figurines from Panuco river valley
43. Figurine from Panuco river valley
Totonac figurine
Figurine from Panuco river valley ..............
Figurine from Panuco river valley ..............
Head from Ticoman, Valley of M e x i c o ............
Figurine from Valley of Mexico, Early Culture . .
Main action lines, showing similarity to design
in Western Mexico.
Valley of Mexico
Early Culture figurine, Valley of Mexico
Angular design in figurine from Early Cultures,
Valley of M e x i c o ...........................
Early Culture head, Valley of Mexico.
from Zapotecan region .......................
Heads from Early Cultures, Valley of Mexico . . .
Figurines from Teotihuacan. a, c, d, e, Teotihuacan II; b, Mazapan t y p e .................
Heads from Teotihuacan.
a, archaictypes;
b, transitional types; c, Toltectypes
Teotihuacan II h e a d s .........................
Figurine from Mazapan c u l t u r e .................
Aztec f i g u r i n e ...............................
The cultures of Pre-Columbian Mexico and Central
America have received exhaustive study from anthropologists
and archaeologists and a great part of this work has neces­
sarily involved the examination and classification of the
various surviving monuments of those cultures.
On the
whole, however, such examination and classification has
been made solely with the end of anthropological and archae­
ological knowledge in view.
These works have been studied
as records which might throw light upon the mode of practi­
cal living and the general picture of the activities of
these different cultures.
They have been accepted mainly
as the next best material where factual historical records
have not been available.
Certain of these investigators
have, in passing, given some attention to these same works
as examples of creative art; but their viewpoint, even so,
has remained necessarily that of their own profession.
Statement of the problem.
It was the purpose of
this study to choose one particular kind of manufactured
object which was common to all the Pre-Columbian cultures
of Mexico, and to analyze its basic design or art form.
This design or art form was conceived to be the abstract
space order underlying subject content.
With such an aim in
view ceramic figurines were chosen for study and an attempt
was made to discover the general characteristics of the art
form in each of the chief cultures.
Included in the problem
was the establishment of the basis for such an analysis.
This was to be presented in the form of a discussion of the
processes of idea and activity development in art.
Importance of the study.
In analyzing the importance
of this study, its possible value to students specializing
in art, archaeology, and anthropology was considered.
cause of the different primary interests which exist for
each group its importance should appear in a different light
to each.
It is generally agreed among teachers of the space
arts as well as among practitioners of those arts that cre­
ative work in those fields calls for a particular kind of
thinking which is marked by the importance within it of
Regardless of what the practical purpose behind
1 Denman W. Ross, On Drawing and Painting (New York:
Houghton Nifflin, 1919); also Arthur W. Dow, Composition
(New York: Doubleday, 1916); and Albert C. Barnes, The Art
in Painting (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 19 28).
such creative activity might be or of what the nature of its
inner ideas, it must take the character of space before it
can exist objectively.
This it can hardly do except as the
mental activity itself is able somehow to assume that char­
All ideas which are to find representation in spe­
cial materials must develop themselves as special entities.
One of the most important'problems, therefore, which
confronts the student of art, whether he intends to create
or simply to appreciate and understand, is that of develop­
ing the ability and possibly the habit of thinking specially.
The approach to this problem must be made in two ways.
student may practice such thinking by the manipulation of
concrete material, where an insight into its physical pro­
perties alone necessarily implies an awareness of space.
Here, by using material, by making things out of it, he will
of course gain such experience because of the spacial nature
of that material and because of the fact that to make a thing
out of it means, among other things, to deal with spacial
But he may approach the problem also through
the study of the proportions of natural objects and objects
of art and through the direct perception of those proportions.
It appears, then, that the present study, in calling
attention to the space qualities of art objects, should be
of value to students of art.
In doing this it should focus
attention upon what seems to be the main problem in the
study of art and possibly contribute both toward a better
understanding of it and a more intelligent approach to it.
It should be noted that the primary problem of art
students is different from that of students in other fields
in an important and fundamental way.
This difference lies
within the different use or function of perception for these
On the one hand, perception is to be thought of as
providing the data for knowledge.
stood as a means to an end.
Here it must be under­
And the results of perception,
when recorded in the form of scientific knowledge, are made
available to students whose aim is the acquisition and dis­
covery of knowledge.
This is a way of saying that the way
knowledge is acquired is of no importance for one type of
student, so long as that knowledge is dependable.
tion here has no value as an end in itself.
art student such is not at all the case.
But with the
For him perception
itself, the way experience is, takes a position of impor­
tance before everything else.
His problem is to develop per­
ception in the direction of its own completeness and perfec- .
tion rather than in the direction of knowledge.
Within this
fact lies the essential difference between the problem of
the art student and that of all other students.
However, the characteristic form which perception
takes in a culture, as it is revealed in works of art,
should be considered an important part of our knowledge of
that culture.
To the extent that it can be analyzed and re­
corded in symbols, it may be made available as scientific
One of the aspects of the history of art has to
do with the evolution of form as it reveals fundamental
changes in the perceptual attitudes of a culture.
It is,
therefore, not too extravagant to suggest that this type of
study might make a slight contribution to the general knowl­
edge of Pre-Columbian Mexican cultures and to the knowledge
of the art of those cultures in particular.
Such knowledge
is of especial value to students of the history of art.
This study may have one other value for art students
and for those with an interest in art, which depends rather
upon the existence of a deep popular prejudice than upon any
characteristic of its own.
That value would lie within the
extent to which it might show that the quality of the art of
Pre-Columbian Mexico is as truly aesthetic or artistic as
the quality of the art of any other civilization or culture.
That this fact is not popularly accepted or fully realized
even by some anthropologists must be attributed to the aca­
demic importance assigned to Creek art and its derivatives
and to the natural inclination toward judicial criticism.
There have been so many so-called authorities who have judged
Creek and Renaissance art and set them up as standards in
excellence and "legitimate" meaning.
These judgments have become established so firmly
that the collected works of cultures which lie outside or on
the fringe of Greek influence are to be found today not so
much in the art museums, where they are usually avoided, as
in the museums of archaeology and anthropology.
This does
not apply so much to the works of the great Oriental cul­
tures, but it should be remembered that the Greek contribu­
tion to them is far from negligible.
It does apply, however,
to those cultures loosely classified as primitive.
In recent
years certain African sculpture has received attention for
its aesthetic qualities, but this has remained limited to
the sophisticated few.
All this indicates that the aesthetic
qualities of the primitive arts have been comparatively ne­
glected and that the great aesthetic heritage comprised in
the works of the Indian cultures of Mexico and Central Amer­
ica has not yet become a factor in present-day expression.
It is to be hoped that studies of the works of these cul­
tures as art forms will bring about a wider appreciation of
their expressiveness and will make the fact still more clear
that the degree of the aesthetic achievement of a people can­
not be measured in terms of its material or scientific
It is not scientific to apply the aesthetic standards
based on the art of one civilization to the art of another.
This is unfortunately true because of the fact that the na­
ture which such standards assume is fundamentally inappli­
cable to the art of any civilization whatsoever.
standards are established they are useful--mechanically and
quantitatively--for replacing actual experience; and, espe­
cially in so far as art works are concerned, they serve to
inhibit their direct perception.
The meaning of art is
qualitative, whereas, standards are applicable only to
quantitative measure.
That which can be brought equally to
the arts of all cultures is not a set of standards
can replace immediate experience, but rather an attitude
which fosters such experience.
The standards which may apply
are those of experience rather than those of form.
The lat­
ter are dominated by recollection; the former, by perception.
In every case art works must be referred directly to experi­
Only when this view is taken and such an approach is
accepted can there be the possibility of an arrival at some
knowledge of the position which the art of the Indian cul­
tures holds among those arts of other civilizations and ages.
The present study attempts to make such an approach.
For the archaeologist the classification of excavated
materials is a very important part of his work.
After hav­
ing taken exact notes regarding the positions of his funds
and the conditions surrounding them, it is necessary that
such classification be made in order that those objects be­
longing characteristically to the different positions can be
As a result of accurate classification, conclu-
sions can be reached regarding the relationship of different
sites to each other as well as of different cultures which
may have occupied the same site.
The archaeologist depends primarily for such classi­
fication upon the physical characteristics of his materials,
upon differences in the use of materials, that is, upon dif­
ferences in technique; and, where he makes use of the form
of those materials, he notes differences in the representa­
tion of well established concepts and symbols.
He will ob­
serve very closely, for example, the different forms of ear­
plugs shown in the ears of figurines; the different types of
headdress worn; whether the noses are hooked or straight,
the eyes elongated or round; whether such objects are natur­
alistic, conventional, or impressionistic.
This is all as
it should be for it deals with material which is highly ob­
jective and easily verified.
But such classification might
well extend into the field of art form where it would then
deal with characteristics of abstract design.
Where that
design is limited to represent the common mode of perception
of a culture, such classification might prove of great value
in archaeological work, especially in suggesting leads for
further investigation.2
^ Edwin Swift Balch and Eugenia M. Balch, Art and Man
(Philadelohia: Allen, Lane and Scott, 1918), d d . 16-17, and
Qualitative classification of this sort would have
be accomplished by those experienced in the study of art
form, whose interest in such objects was primarily artistic
rather than archaeological; that is, by trained students of
art serving in that specialized capacity.
This point is
here suggested as bearing upon the possible importance of
the present type of study.
The science of anthropology is so broad in scope as
include the subject of art form or design. The signifi­
cance of art for this science, however, was slow in being
realized but in recent years it has been receiving more and
more attention.
It is not improbable that the fundamental,
abstract design of art will claim an increasing amount of
this attention.
Balch^ points out a general fact which it is the aim
of this present study to investigate in more detail.
speaks of the peculiar preference of certain races for a
curvilinear art and others for a rectilinear art.
This ob­
servation may be pregnant with cultural significance and
therefore serve as an illustration of the importance of this
type of study for anthropology.
These preferences, which he
observes are thought of here not so much as mere preferences
as necessities revealing basic mental traits of ethnic
Balch and Balch, loc. cit.
In discussing the possible importance of this study,
its main weakness should be noted.
It is one which is basic
to the nature of the approach, but it is not so great as to
discourage all such effort where profitable results are un­
deniably to be had.
This weakness, which may be stated as the difficulty
of interpreting qualities, besets all attempts at criticism
of any sort.
But here the intention was to simplify the
critical problem to an extreme point.
And yet, in setting
aside all interest in subject matter, as such, and stripping
away as far as possible all meanings based in common recog­
nition, it must be admitted that the problem became, if
stream-lined in simplicity, highly elusive as well.
do "go” in certain directions, however, and if given complete
freedom to assert themselves they will be found to go with
varying degrees of force and speed.
And their directions,
when followed through, will be seen to fall easily into those
of others, defining space in various ways.
Finally, it must be stressed that, to become valid,
the conclusions of this study should be verified through
similar studies carried out by students with experience in
Because of the fact that the meanings of the terms
used in this study imply the theoretical basis upon which
any conclusions must depend, all of Chapter Two is devoted
to the definition and discussion of those terms.
The aim of
that chapter was to indicate broadly the approach taken in
this investigation and at the same time to establish its
No attempt was made to put forward any complete
aesthetic theory.
Chapter Three deals entirely with a review of the
most valuable part of that literature pertaining to the prob­
lem of this paper.
This material is presented under several
First, a very few of the works on the general his­
tory of the different cultures are mentioned.
This is fol­
lowed by a digest of archaeological works, which describe the
materials of this study and the conditions under which they
were found.
Throughout this discussion a general history of
the cultures is presented along with the theories and the
opinions of the several authors.
Chapter Three has been arranged to follow those chap­
ters which take up the main problem of the thesis.
main problem was divided into Chapter Four, the Figurines
of the Zapotecan Culture; Chapter Five, The Figurines of the
Maya Culture; Chapter Six, The Figurines of Western Mexico;
Chapter Seven, The Figurines of Eastern Mexico; Chapter
Eight, The Figurines from the Valley of Mexico.
Chapter Nine contains a presentation of the summary
of findings and certain conclusions.
This chapter is fol­
lowed by a bibliography.
The nature of this study called for a great many an­
alytical illustrations.
These are placed as plates at the
end of each chapter, with the exception of a few figures
that are to be found within the text at points most conven­
ient to the problems discussed.
It is perhaps irapossible to study the design or form
of such an art as sculpture without the aid of certain preestablished principles.
These principles, although of neces
sity theoretical due to the subjective import of design,
should,nevertheless, be soundly based in the experiences of
artists and the students of aesthetics.
They should be
philosophically and psychologically as sound as possible;
basic enough in their nature to be applicable to sculpture
of all times and places; and, above all, clearly defined.
In no other field does there exist more difference of
opinion than in that where the values of art are dealt.
Much of this probably comes from the fact that the principle
by which art is commonly understood are neither basic nor
clearly grasped.
Because of these considerations, it has
been felt important to set forth briefly, but as clearly as
possible, the accepted meaning of those terms which occur in
the course of this study; first, in a general sense, then in
a more specific manner.
This term is here accepted in its most ab­
stract and its most objective meaning.
It is objective in
that it is assumed to b e a property of the material object
of art.
It is abstract in that the meaning of that property
does not depend upon reference to anything outside, but
rests wholly upon relationships belonging solely to the
material object of art.
The meaning to which the term "design” is here re­
stricted is, nevertheless, to be thought of as representing,
in each art object, a certain intention on the part of a
particular individual.
It is to be thought of as having ex­
isted at one time in the mind of that individual as an idea.
This intentional character of design is mentioned at this
time for the reason that it appears here as a possible con­
tradiction to that abstract nature above assigned to it.
design is abstract, depending for its meaning solely upon
certain relationships belonging to the object, then what of
representation where reference is made to things outside?
Is such representation not to be thought of as belonging to
the artist’s idea?
It is not possible to affirm that, in
the case sculpture, the factor of representation was uninten­
tional .
In view of this question design is here accepted as
meaning the way representation is achieved.
And it may be
noted that such meaning, while strictly intentional, re­
mains essentially abstract and objective.
Representation in itself is a broad term.
In the
space arts it is popularly thought of as restricted to the
outward appearances of things.
But actually, in those arts,
its reference is much broader, often comprehending ideas and
beliefs which exist, culturally and individually, as abstrac­
It is, therefore, seen to be quite true that repre­
sentation is always present in art.
since design is
simply the way it is achieved, it nay be concluded that de­
sign itself is always present in art.
This seemingly obvious
observation is important for the reason that so often a kind
of representation commonly called naturalism is allowed to
discourage the discovery of its accompanying design.
fact is that the element of design is as much present in socalled naturalistic art as it is in what is called conven­
tionalized art.
ter is the same.
And, furthermore, in both cases its charac­
It is in the first place objective, being a
property of the object of art; and, in the second place ab­
stract, needing to be referred to nothing outside of that
To summarize then, it should be stated that the mean­
ing of the term design is accepted in this study (1) to be
abstract, (2) to be objective, (5) to be the way representa­
tion is achieved, and (4) to be present in all art whether
naturalistic or conventional.
For the purpose of this study it is desirable
to recognize in the term form two kinds of meaning.
One of
these will be designated art-form; the other, material-form.
Both may be used in reference to the object of art, but with
different import.
Material form. All concrete objects have their ma­
terial form, their particular manner of extension.
less of their significance, this is so.
at the same time, material objects.
Objects of art are,
They may have their pe­
culiar significance, but they also have their mass.
By this
term, then, is meant simply that which is known about an ob­
ject when it is stripped of all significance that depends
upon expression.
Art form.
By art form is meant those relationships
which underlie representation but which remain abstract.
This is in effect the same definition given to the term de­
sign, but in this study the latter term is to be thought of
as being more general than the term art form.
In order to make its meaning clear, it will be examined
in its relation to the term "material form" and also to the
term "significance."
One of the important and basic characteristics of art
form is its embodiment of that relationship which represents
the artist's idea.
This is a way of saying that art form is
Itself a relationship which at some time existed in the mind
of an artist.
To understand it clearly the following ques­
tion should be answered.
How can a relationship exist at
one time in the mind of an individual and at another time
in concrete material?
The answer to this question should
provide at the same time an insight into the relation between
the material form of an art object and its art form.
The meaning of the material form of an art object, be­
ing stripped of all significance which depends upon expres­
sion, is not colored or affected by the meaning of the object’s
art form since the latter expresses the artist’s idea.
ing a piece of sculpture as an example, it is possible to
think of it as a block of stone, extending itself in space
in a certain manner without expressive significance; or, on
the other hand, as extending itself in space so as to achieve
Art form then is accepted as meaning the way
an object extends itself in space so as to achieve represen­
tation of the artist’s idea.
From the above it is seen that art form is a spacerelationship, but further than that it is one which achieves
representation of an artist’s idea.
an answer to the question:
From this is provided
"How can a relationship exist
at one time in the mind of an individual and at another time
in concrete material?"
It can exist in the mind imaginative­
Representation then begins as an image of a space-
relationship, existing in the mind of the artist, and it
finds its way as a space-relationship to exist somehow in
concrete material.
The main difference noted between the meaning of the
term material form and that of the term art form was in the
matter of the representation of an idea.
Both kinds of form
are seen to involve a manner of extension in space.
But one
is extended so as to represent an idea while the other’s ex­
tension is determined solely by the nature of the material
Aside from the difference of meaning resting upon
significance, these two terms imply a difference of meaning
which rests upon a difference in the manner of extension.
The relationship existing between art form and material
form as the two terms are here accepted may be stated as fol­
lows :
Art form has significance while material form has
Both art form and material form have extension.
The extension of art form is different from that
of material form.
This difference in extension accounts for the fact
that art form represents an idea while material form does
These four statements will be discussed briefly in turn.
The significance of art form rests, as discussed above,
upon the fact that it represents an idea.
This it does with­
in its inner-relationships for which reason it is called ab­
The absence of significance in material form was
accepted as a condition of its meaning in this study.
Art form was seen above to heve that manner of exten­
sion in space by which representation is achieved, while the
extension of material form was seen to be determined by the
nature of the very material itself.
The third statement that the extension of art form
is different from that of material form needs some elabora­
In the first place it should be noted that the ma­
terial form of an object comprehends all those points within
that object’s extent.
It is important to note further that
these points belong to all the space relationships possible
within the object.
Now it has been seen that an idea may be
represented within concrete material as a space relationship.
And from this it may be concluded that material form, in
holding all possible space relationships holds the possibil­
ity of the representation of as many ideas.
But, while hold­
ing the possibility of them, all, it can possess the actual
significance of none.
Furthermore, it may be seen that the
essential characteristic of the extension of art form is that
it is determined by and limited to one space relationship
only; namely, the one which represents an idea.
Such a rela­
tionship may conceivably involve all or any number of the
points comprised by the extension of the material form.
whatever the number involved, those points must present but
one relationship and so represent but one idea.
To summarize, then, it may be said that material form
comprehends all the points within an object's extent togeth­
er with all their possible relationships, while art form
comprehends all or any number of those points with but one
of their possible relationships.
The fourth statement above affirms that the differ­
ence in the manner of extension accounts for the fact that
art form represents an idea while material form does not.
This difference was seen to be that between one space rela­
tionship and all possible space relationships.
Were it
pointed out that certain natural forms might conceivably be
so extended as to present one particular space relationship
before all others, might it not be said that in so doing an
idea is represented to the mind of the observer,
to be inferred that, because such an
and is it
object was not fash­
ioned by the hand of man, its dominant space relationship
has not before existed in the mind of man?
The point to be
made here is that the ideas discovered in the forms of na­
ture exist in the same way as those discovered in objects of
art and that they differ not in essence but rather in terms
of communication only.
It is necessary that some of the points comprising
the art form of an object belong at the same time to the ex­
tension of the material form of that object.
But it is not
necessary that ail the points of the art form belong to the
material form as well.
An artist uses a piece of stone for
the purpose of representing his idea.
As has been seen, his
idea can be understood as a space relationship.
The artist
uses the points, or some of the points, within the extent of
the stone in order to establish that relationship which re­
presents his idea.
So it is seen that some of the points
comprising the material form of the stone are necessarily a
part of the art form of the stone.
But it is possible that
the space relationship which represents the artist!s idea
is such that points outside the stone may be involved as
These may trace movements in the surroundiirg space.
They must be thought of as belonging to the art form but as
not belonging to the material form of the object.
But while
not belonging to the material form of the object they must
be seen to depend upon it for their existence.
The terms discussed so far have
had reference to conditions within concrete material.
have been regarded as having objective meaning only.
It is
necessary, however, in exploring the values of art objects
to recognize in them certain subjective truth also and to
discover connections between that truth and the meaning
which is accepted as objective.
This necessity becomes
apparent the moment an art object is regarded as an impres­
Sculpture, for instance, is a condition of extension
in concrete material, but it may also be thought of as a
combination of visual and tactile stimuli.1
The term,Tfelt-relationship" is accepted here as
meaning the way art form exists in the mind.
It has been
seen that a space relationship can exist within concrete
material and also within the mind of an individual.
it exists within concrete material it is called art form;
when it exists in the mind it shall be called a felt rela­
tionship .
As such it is more than a sensation, however, for the
reason that a sensation is defined as the conscious response
to the stimulation of a sense organ or nerve receptor and not
as a relationship.2
It is enough, for the purpose of this
study, to recognize that space relationships outside the mind
can be experienced within the mind as images, and that it is,
therefore, reasonable to affirm that such relationships do,
in a sense, exist there.
^ A. M. Rindge, Sculpture (New York: Payson and Clark,
Ltd., 1929), pp. 1-13.
Harold Newton Lee, Perception and Aesthetic Value
(New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 19 38), pp. 24-26.
In affirming that the art form of a
material object can exist as a felt relationship within the
mind, it must not be understood that such a relationship ex­
ists there in all purity and sundered from all other kinds
of experience.
lust as in concrete material it has been
seen that art form exists among any number of possible space
relationships, making use of points held in common with
material form; so in the mind a felt relationship must have
its existence among the traces of all those past experiences
which are known as associations.3
And just as in concrete
material a space relationship or art form, upon analysis, re­
solves itself into a dominant tendency; so in the mind a felt
relationship must appear as a tendency within experience.
This dominant tendency, combined with the whole experience,
is then what is known as expression.
The capacity for expression is here accepted in the
subjective sense of existing in the mind.
Its importance,
however, lies in the fact that it is exactly realized in con­
crete material, where such material is said to be expressive
or to have expressiveness.
It is important to understand that art form, as a
dominant tendency in material, is different from the expres­
siveness of that material which may be understood as
3 George Santayana, The Sense of Beauty (New York:
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1896 ), pp. 193-5.
combining the influence of other tendencies with it.
is especially true if it is seen that those particular ten­
dencies Vv’hich exert such influence are dependent upon as­
sociations formed by past experiences.
To discover the es­
sential characteristics of the art of any period requires
that the dominant tendency
within expressiveness be brought
to light since associations themselves may belong not to the
period in which the art was produced, but rather to the per­
iod in which it is examined.
This dominant tendency within
expressiveness is seen to be a space relationship to the
art form.
The purpose of the above discussion was to establish
the general meaning of the terms used in this study and to
indicate their relationship one to the other.
The following
discussion will aim to examine that meaning more closely in
order to establish it with more clarity as well as to indi­
cate more fully the value of such an approach to the study
of art objects.
Design. Because of the fact that this term has here
been accepted as being very general and as embracing the
meaning of the term art form, it will not be examined fur­
ther .
Material form.
This terra was thought of first of all
as having the meaning of objects when they are stripped of
all that significance which depends upon expression.
psychologist might hold that such "purified” meaning cannot
exist, but since it is doubtful if anything exists in pur­
ity; and since such meaning does exist decidedly in a com­
parative way, it is sufficiently real for this study.
When an object is so stripped of this kind of signifi­
cance it is then seen as existing because of a certain manner
of extension.
This manner of extension which it possesses
may be thought of as taking care both of its extent in space
and its common physical properties, its surface texture, its
volume, its hardness, and so on.
Furthermore, it should be
noted that this same extension may be understood as compris­
ing all those points within the concrete material as well as
all their possible space relationships, and that these pos­
sible relationships are determined and limited solely by the
nature of the concrete material itself.
The mind, can entertain but one space relationship at
a time; or, if more, then they must be brought by it into a
larger relationship capable of comprising them all.
It is
for this reason that material form cannot be understood as
embodying or representing an idea.
No one relationship em­
erges from all those possible with sufficient force to be
sustained as a felt relationship or a represented idea in
the mind.
The important point to observe in all this is that
in this concept of material form all the possible space re­
lationships which it possesses are isolated from the world
of ideas.
This is true either because of the fact that these
relationships cannot come forward singly with sufficient
force or that no larger relationship appears to embrace them
Art form. Art form is to be distinguished then from
material form first of all by the fact that it has access to
the world of ideas.
Being one space relationship, a sus­
tained tendency among many, it is capable of representation
in the mind as a felt relationship, a sustained tendency
within experience.
The importance of this concept of art
form cannot be overestimated for in it is implied the notion
that art's essential significance lies within its special
meaning, its spacial order.
And by the dominating character
of the space relationship of art form, its commanding posi­
tion among the possible relationships of material form, is
revealed the logic of the assumption that the art works of
man speak an intelligible language.
It remains to examine further into the character of
art form, but since it is accepted as being a space rela­
tionship by which representation is achieved and one capable
of existing either in the mind or in concrete material, it
is enough to investigate the nature of that relationship
And whether it is examined while it exists within
the mind as a felt relationship or in concrete material
should make no difference so far as the results are con­
cerned .
Space relationship. Art form was defined as a space
relationship in concrete material which at one time existed
in the mind of an artist.
Subsequently, it was seen that
wherever one space relationship exists as dominant among
all the possible ones belonging to material form it exists
as art form and, therefore, represents an idea.
This means
that any kind of space relationship may exist as art form
so long as it sustains its essential character among all the
possible ones of material form.
Wherever a space relation­
ship is discovered in concrete material, then, regardless of
the nature of its inner order, there is representation.
from this it appears to follow that superiority in art is
to be determined only by the force and completeness of the
idea as expressed.
This force and completeness will be
found to exist within the art form.
If the condition of that space relationship which
represents an idea is solely that it stand apart from and
sustain its character among all the possible ones of material
form, that it exist as the dominant tendency within the ex­
tension of concrete material, then how is it that this con­
dition can be fulfilled?
The answer to this question should
reveal the basic principles of art form.
The condition of standing apart, of sustaining an in­
dividual character among the many implies the concept of
This concept is implied as well in the term rela­
It may be said, therefore, that the very first
condition of art form is unity.
But this unity must be of
such force that it assumes a commanding position and over­
rides the tendencies of all the other possible relationships
to assume character of their own.
The unity of art form,
then, depending entirely upon the order of the space rela­
tionship which achieves it, implies that both force and move­
ment exist within that relationship.
But further than that,
the term unity implies a unity of something, just as the
term relationship itself
implies that something is related.
At this point it may be valuable to use an example.
A primitive man has the idea of an animal to represent.
does not have the animal to represent for that would be im­
All that he can possibly have is his idea of it
and it is this which he wishes to represent,
pose he chooses a block of stone.
lor this pur­
Ke imagines the animal,
Elizabeth Kemper Adams, The Aesthetic Experience:
Its Meaning In a Functional Psychology (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1907), pp. 86-89.
and his image has the character of space.
also has such character.
The block of stone
His problem,then, is to so change
the extension of the stone that his idea will become the dom­
inating space relationship among all the other possible space
relationships within the stone.
Before this process could ever begin, however, the
artist would have to acquire his idea of the animal.
he might do through visual contact with the material form
of the animal.
And his problem of forming that idea would be
the same in its nature as the problem of representing it,
once formed, in stone.
It would be necessary that he, in a
manner, gain mastery over material form in both cases.
the first case, he would have to force one particular space
relationship to stand apart from all the others within the
material form of the animal and to dominate all the others.
In this way because of the fact that this relationship w7ould
exist for himself within his own mind as his idea, he would
gain mastery over the material form of the animal.
In the
second case, in representing his idea, he would again find
it necessary to force that space relationship corresponding
to it to stand apart as the dominating tendency within the
extension of the stone.
And thus would he gain mastery over
the material form of the stone.
It is obvious from this that man’s ideas are formed
in essentially the same way that they are expressed, and
that where expression is thought of as an act, its character
is determined by one aim, which is that of gaining mastery
over material form.6
To use the above example again, the primitive artist
is in the act of forming his idea of an animal with whose
material form he makes visual contact,6
He chooses a point
within the extent of that material form in much the same way
that a surveyor would choose one, and he establishes direc­
tions through that material whose value he may grasp through
comparison and contrast with other directions.
Thus does he
build a structure within the material form of the animal
whose points and directions are related because of their
similarity and difference in extent and position.
And this
structure is determined and limited precisely by the artist's
necessary conviction that his idea has gained adequate con­
trol over the material form.
What it means then to gain control over material, over
the world of things and forces, to bring the material world
into the realm of ideas, can be found within this structure,
which eventually finds its way into the stone.
This is to
say that within art form may be found the way or method by
John Dewey, Art as Experience (New York: I/Iinton,
Balch and Company, 1934) , Ch. IV.
Harold Newton Lee, ojo. cit., pp. 91-92.
which each artist, each culture, gains mastery over its
material environment.
Art form is the way the mind works
on material; it is objectified in that material in such a
way as to become its dominant tendency and, therefore, find
natural communication with all minds capable of receptive
Thus has the attempt been made to indicate in a gen­
eral way how the space relationship underlying art form and
representing an idea comes about and what its significance
is within this study; how it is a structure having such char­
acter as to afford an insight into the extent and nature of
the grasp which the human mind has upon the material world.
It remains now to investigate some of the general character­
istics of such structures in terms of their inner arrange­
ment .
In stating that the primary condition of art form was
unity it was pointed out that within that unity there should
exist such force as to allow it to assume a commanding posi­
tion over the tendencies of all other possible relationships
within the object of art.
A further characteristic then of
the space relationship of art form is that it exerts force.
And regardless of where the origin of that force might be
placed the fact of its existence is most important.
form is found, logically, to have such force and it is ex­
perienced as having it.
One approach, to the problem of the classification of
the types of art form is by way of the action or organiza­
tion of the forces within it.
Since such forces are repre­
sented within the felt relationship of that experience, which
has here been termed expression, such classification may be
seen to be both possible and valid.
The possibility of this
approach seems implied further in the writings on the theo­
ries of fTinnere Nachahmung" and "Einfilhlung" by the Germans
Karl Groos and Theodor Lipps, as well as in the works of the
art critics, Vernon Lee and Bernhard Berenson.
It is not a
new view and the general position has been accepted by many
of the older writers on aesthetics.7
The dominant tendency among all the possible space
relationships of material form then is an organization of
forces which is directed toward a unity that shall contri­
bute to the expressive meaning the material and represent an
These forces act in space thus taking part in direc­
tion and movement and giving ideational reality to space.
For the mind space, wherein no forces are alive, is unreal.
There appear to be two basic and comprehensive types
of art form which are marked by the character of the action
of forces within each.
These may best be termed centrifugal
and centripetal types for the reason that the general effect
Elizabeth Kemper Adams, o£. cit., pp. 82-83.
of one is a quality of expansion, of outward development;
while the other is marked by forces which tend to contract;
and, in a way, to isolate the object from the surrounding
Centripetal form.
This term is meant to apply to that
general type of art form or design the carts of which are so
arranged as to create the effect of the action of forces to­
ward the center.
Such space arrangement lends to an object
of art a quality of concentration and potential power which
cause it to assume a position of isolation from the surround­
ing space.
Its expressiveness will be found, therefore, to
lie wholly within the extent of the concrete material itself;
and, because of this fact, especially in the case of such
an art as sculpture, the quality of volume will appear of
primary importance.
Such design creates an effect which
might be thought of popularly as form, in the sense in which
one may speak of the "form” of an object.
It will be found further that no changes of direction
over the surfaces of such an object will be such that an
observer’s attention is carried forward and outward beyond
the extent of the material, unless a means for re-entry is
immediately provided.
All lines, all planes, establish dir­
ections the tendency of which is to contribute to this gen­
eral effect.
The range of variation within such a general scheme
is possibly without limit and it is to be understood clearly
that where such an arrangement exists it does so as a gen­
eral tendency within the object.
There are examples of
sculpture, for instance, the directions of whose surfaces
change with such uniformity and lack of accent as to give
them the effect of blending or melting into space, whereas,
because of the concentric nature of those curves the oppo­
site effect might be expected.
If it is understood that such
character as is here discussed has to do with the art form of
an object rather than with its material form and that the art
form is that relationship which is capable of representation
within the mind as a felt relationship, such examples will
not present themselves as incongruities.
thenon is perhaps a case in point.
one of form.
The Athenian Par­
Its general effect is
It appears to have that character of standing
apart in space and of being complete within itself.
And yet,
because of its obvious angularity, where planes are made to
intersect, it might be expected that the observer’s attention
would tend to be carried outside of the material structure at
these points of intersection with such force as to destroy
that very centripetal effect.
This is not the case, however.
Other factors exist to dominate such a tendency with the re­
sulting expressiveness of the building.
Such centripetal form might well be regarded as more
concrete and less abstract.
This form, affirming first of
all the reality of material, has an order which tends to
confine itself wholly within that material and to shrink
from the abstraction of pure space.
It may well signify a
mental point of view which is fundamentally materialistic.
Centrifugal form.
This is the term here applied to
that general type of art form whose character is directly
opposed -to what was called centripetal form.
It is marked
by an effect of outward expansion, or development from the
center, and unlike the effect of centripetal form its ten­
dency is to merge into the surrounding space rather than to
contract and isolate itself from it.
Its power appears to
be actual and acting rather than potential and because of
this fact such form is marked by a kind of unrest.
unity embraces points within the concrete material, but
points outside of that material are as much a part of it.
It affirms the reality of space rather than the reality of
material, which is to say that it appears not so much to
deny the reality of material as to make of it a part of a
comprehensive order which embraces both.
Objects themselves
within such form are seen to be no more than places where
forces concentrate or become congested in their never ceas­
ing action in space.
This is clearly apparent where such
form is found in the art of painting, for here the artist’s
idea usually involves the representation of the images of
things and so their treatment may be noted.
But it is no
less true in sculpture where the representation of the
artist’s idea of an object shows it to exist simply as an
accent in space.
As in centripetal form so here also is there room for
limitless variety of sub-types, which range from the restless
and intricate arabesque of Mohammedan art to the exquisite
Buddhas of Siam.
This tendency is apparent in all true
Gothic art as well.
The two types of art form above mentioned are so gen­
eral that they are capable of comprehending all other ten­
dencies which might be discovered within the expressiveness
of objects of art.
There are, however, two other terms hav­
ing to do with qualities which offer another means of gen­
eral classification in design.
There is that class of sculp­
ture whose general effect is geometric and static; and, on
the other hand, there is the class whose character appears
to depend rather upon a unity of rhythmic relationships which
impart to it a dynamic and organic effect.
This is not to imply, however, either that a geometric
order is never present in dynamic design or that rhythmic re­
lationships do not exist in designs whose general effect is
As a matter of fact, the quality of rhythm will be
found wherever form is expressive and it will always be
present and acting toward a unity which embraces a geometric
relationship as well.
Whether the one or the other dominates,
however, may determine whether the effect is static or dynam­
And it should be noted further that one of these quali­
ties may exist either in that art form which confines itself
to the concrete material or in that which involves points
both outside and inside that material.
There are then both
static and dynamic types of centripetal form just as these
two types are found also in centrifugal form.
The art medium.
In discussing the term "material
form” it was pointed out that its determining factor was its
possession of all the possible space relationships between
those points existing within the extent of the concrete ma­
And it was suggested that because of the very fact
that no one of those relationships assumed a sufficiently
dominant position, such form embodied no idea and could not
be represented within the mind.
The distinction between ma­
terial form and art form was made in order to indicate the
essential difference between those forms which appear to be
expressive and those which do not, and this distinction was
not thought of as having other than a comparative value.
Such a property as "hardness," for instance, when found
within material is surely experienced as an idea.
And such
physical properties are presented by all concrete materials.
It should be stated further that such an idea as that of
"hardness” is essentially no different from any other idea
which may be represented within concrete material.
But while this may all be true regarding it, there
is, nevertheless, one distinguishing fact to be noted.
above mentioned properties, which are capable of represen­
tation within the mind as ideas are strangely known to be­
long to that concrete material and to have originated within
Regardless of what its total extent may be, furthermore,
they remain unchanged.
It is the concrete material, as
possessing such inherent and permanent properties, which is
here thought of as the art medium.
The sculptor then chooses as a medium a material hav­
ing certain very knowable properties.
And into such a medium
it is his intention to incorporate his idea in such a way
that it will become the dominant relationship among many
possible ones within the extent of the material.
Since it
was seen, moreover, that an idea may exist in the mind as a
space relationship, it is conceivable that it may even possess
those properties of hardness, and so forth, which are common
to the art medium.
But it is as easy to conceive of an idea
which, although purely spacial, does not involve such proper­
It is perhaps for this reason that a certain kind of
sculpture appears not only to affirm the limited extent of
material but also certain of its characteristic physical
Egyptian gods carved in granite are good ex-
The other kind of sculpture, as before stated, af­
firms the abstraction of space and therefore tends to cause
both the extent and the properties of material substance to
become subordinate to that idea.
Such sculpture transcends
the properties of the medium and arrives at an expressive­
ness marked by the abstract nature of the space idea.
But it must be clear that in either case any lack of
respect for the properties of the medium would weaken the
force of the idea within it
for the precise reason that the
medium exists as such and that it could not exist apart from
its properties.
Any violation of those properties would in­
evitably draw attention to itself and reveal a conflict be­
tween the medium and the space idea.
There is one final point which should be discussed
in order to clarify the approach and general point of view
assumed in this study of Pre-Columbian Mexican forms in cer­
amic sculpture.
That point has to do with the expressiveness
of the minor arts within a culture, the relation of that ex­
pressiveness to the major arts, and it bears upon the ques­
tion of the place of the so-called aesthetic experience in
the discovery and classification of art form.
A. M. Rmdge, op . cit., pp. 19-26.
A profound and exhaustive study of the arts of any
culture is not necessary for a realization of the fact that
all the objects made by it or within it are marked somehow
by a common order.
Even a culture such as that of ancient
Egypt, which extends itself over so long a period and in
which such a bewildering variety of forms may be found, will
reveal this truth.
The very common objects of utility there
will be found to possess in their shape something which
stamps them as kin to the temples and the images of the
Pharoahs and Gods.
It may be granted that such a considera­
tion as practical purpose is the determining factor in the
form of an object of utility; whereas, in a work of art such
as sculpture, the form is determined by the need to express
an inner order divorced from all practical considerations.
But the fact persists that in both cases the form of the
manufactured objects exists at some time within the mind of
the maker as a unified space relationship.
And whether it
was called forth in order that the maker might have an im­
plement for further work or an image of his God seems of no
great importance.
What is important is that the artist
formed an idea within his mind and expressed that idea by
gaining a mastery over concrete material outside his mind.
There is no reason to expect that the way of achieving such
mastery in the one case should differ essentially from that
in the other.
It must be concluded therefore that a type of design,
in this basic and abstract sense of the word, is character­
istic of each civilization or culture; that it represents
the way the mind within that culture works in gaining mas­
tery over the material world; and that it may be found to
exist essentially the same in the minor arts as in the major
arts of a culture.
It has not been felt necessary for the purpose of
establishing the viewpoint of this study to dwell upon the
aesthetic experience.
That experience is here regarded as
representing so natural and so simple an attitude that it is
taken for granted.
To perceive what has here been referred
to as the dominant tendency within concrete material is no
doubt to imply the proper attitude for it; but, insofar as
the aesthetic experience admits into itself those subjective
ingredients based somehow within associations, it fails to
serve as the final measuring stick by which this study pro­
poses to classify forms.
The problem here was to discover
within the total expressiveness of form its kernel, which is
to say, its dominant tendency in the direction of space or­
And although this may involve the experience called
aesthetic, it also involves a kind of thinking where the im­
mediacy of that experience is the basic material of thought.
Of the works consulted In the course of this study
only those which proved of most value will be summarized
Some of the most valuable aids have been collections
of photographic material in book form and actual examples
of ceramic sculpture.
These will be briefly listed here
and discussed in more detail in the chapters that follow.
Literature on the general hi story of Pre-Columbian
Ilexican cultures.
The history of the Indian cultures of
Mexico is based upon a great variety of materials all of
which calls for unusually careful study and interpretation.
There exist only a few native documents, written both be­
fore and after the conquest, and some of these deal solely
with calendrical and religious matters, recorded in hiero­
glyphics w/ith pictorial illustrations which make their com­
plete meaning difficult to fathom.
The three known such
Maya books are (l) The Dresden Codex, now in the Public Li­
brary of Dresden, Germany; (2) The Perez, in the National
Library of Paris; (3) The Tro-Cortesiano, a manuscript which
has been divided into several parts all of which are today
in Spain.
Two other important Maya works exist both of which
were written after the conquest in the native language but
with Spanish script.
These are (1) the books of Chilam
Baalam, which relate a fragmentary, legendary history of the
Maya, adding little to the dependable history of those peo­
ple; and (2) The Popul Vuh, a book of Maya-Q.uiche1 legendary
and mythic history in the Q,uicheT language.
The Aztecs also
left records of their legendary history in the form of pic­
ture writing.
In the Boturini Codex, are depicted the wan­
derings of this tribe between their legendary home in the
"land of the seven caves” in the far north and their city of
Tenochtitlan in the Valley of Mexico.
Numerous documents exist which were written by the
Spanish priests and. conquerors.
These generally refute one
another and are marked by extreme imaginative quality and
The most interesting record of the conquest it­
self is that of the old Spanish soldier Bermal Diaz del
Castillo who has left a fascinating and important story of
the campaigns of Cortez.
The other sources for historical works are the materi­
al remains of the people.
It has been the work of archaeolo­
gists to investigate these and to make their story available
to the historian.
Hewett1 has compiled a work dealing with the ancient
1 Edgar Lee Hewett, Ancient Life in Mexico and. Central
America (New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1936"]
life of Mexico and Central America which gives an excellent
general picture of the chief aboriginal cultures as well as
a fine review of the archaeological work upon which that pic­
ture is based.
This book deals with all aspects of those
cultures and attempts to point out the direction which the
most profitable future research in this field should take;
namely, that determined by the acceptance, as the primary
aim of such research, of the problem of arriving at a clear
knowledge of cultural evolution.
The well known work by Joyce. written in 1914, is a
very thorough presentation of the knowledge of Mexican and
Maya cultures at that time.
Although much has been done
since, the general view7 given by this work remains a val­
uable introduction to the study of any phase of those cul­
This author gives especial attention to the problem
of dating and his conclusions are generally accepted today.
Spinden1s^ picture of ancient Mexican and Central Ameri­
can civilizations is very valuable.
In this work is pre­
sented not only the present state of general knowledge of the
specialized cultures but also much material on the "Archaic"
It was from this latter material that the author
Thomas A. Joyce, Mexican Archaeology (London: Philip
Lee Warner, 1920)
° Herbert J. Spinden, Ancient Civilizations of Mex­
ico and Central America (New York: American Museum of Natural
History, 192&T""
F la 1 5P IN D E N '5
d is t r ib u t io n
of archaic f i g u r i n e s
developed his theory of a unit culture underlying all the
civilizations of Middle America*
This theory is based
mainly upon the similarity of ceramic figurines found below
Toltec remains at such sites as Teotihuaoan and Azcapotzaleo
in the Valley of Mexico and at other points far distant.
appears to be a very practical supposition, having much evi­
dence for support.
However, the tendency has been to see
an increasing amount of local variation within this so-called
Archaic horizon, and since 1928 a great deal of material has
been brought forward to weaken any such theory.
Thompson^ has attempted to give an account of the cul­
tures of the Valley of Mexico which avoids the detail and
technical terms of other general works.
He has also made it
his aim to stress those aspects not thoroughly covered by
Joyce while passing over those which were carefully consider­
ed by that author.
This book, because of its simplification,
is a good introduction to the present study.
Moreover, it
represents certain ceramic figurines.which are typical to the
areas considered.
Literature on the cultures of the Valley of Mexico.
According to G-arnio^the interest in Pre-Toltec remains in
4 J. Eric Thompson, Mexico Before Cortez (New York:
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953)
Manuel G-amio "Las Excavaciones del Pedregal de San
Angel y la Cultura Arcaica del Valle de Mexico," American
Anthropologist, n.s. Vol. 22, p. 127, 19 20.
Mexico began with Madame Nuttail’s discovery in 1907 of a
new type of figurine under the lava flow, known as the
Early remains had been discovered as early as
185b by the French Commission and later in 1885 by Ho liness
but no attempt had been made at their interpretation.
then a very great amount of work has been done toward the
investigation of those cultures that preceded the specialized
civilizations of Mexico, and especially have such efforts
been fruitful in the Valley of Mexico itself.
Garnio^ began his important and extensive work in 1909
and shortly thereafter had established three distinct cul­
ture levels at Azcapotzalco.
This site was once so impor­
tant as to rival the Aztec Tenochtitlan. Situated on the
shores of lake Texcoco, it was conquered and partly destroyed
in 1439.
Gamio was able to show here not merely the three
distinct culture levels superimposed one above the other but
he was also able to indicate geological changes accompanying
them which are indicative of great extent in time.
At Azca­
potzalco the Aztecan pottery is found near the surface.
William H. Holmes, "Antiquity of Man on the Site of
the City of Mexico," Transactions, Anthropological Society
of Washington, 1885, vol. 3.
Manuel Garnio, "Restos de la Cultura Tepanec," Anales
del Museo Nacional de Arqueologia, Historia,
Nueva Serie, Tomo
Mexico, 1909.
F I G . 2 . SOME pRI NCI P A L S I T E S IN V A L L E Y OF M E X I C O .
m r n m
Toltecan remains occur in midle and lower sections.
neath these two cultural layers, both of which occur in
soil, is found a thick layer of water-bearing gravel mixed
with sand.
It is throughout this that figurines of the
archaic type are scattered.
Below this stratum is bed rock.
By 1912 Professor Boas had published his album in
which is reproduced a very great number of sherds and figur­
ines from the early cultures of the Valley of Mexico.
illustrations comprise surface finds and are presented with­
out any archaeological data.
But for the student of the
form of archaic figurines the work is most valuable.
In 1917 Dr. Gamio^ took up his work at Copilco follow­
ing reports which had flourished for some time concerning
figurines discovered underneath the lava flow of the Pedregal,
just south of Mexico City.
It was here, some hundreds of
feet back from the original front of the lava flow that human
remains were found by quarry workers.
By means of a series
of tunnels these human remains may be seen today, beneath the
flow, lying in the positions in which they were buried.
ongside of them may be seen archaic type figurines which
8 Franz Boas, Album de Colecciones Arqueologicas
(Mexico, D. F. Escuela, Internacional de Arqueologia y Etnologia Americanas, 1911-1912)
Manuel Gamio, "Las Excavaciones del Pedregal de San
Angel y la Cultura Arcaica del Valle de Mexico," American
Anthropologist, n.s., vol. 22, pp. 127-43, 1920.
appeal to serve as funeral offerings.
These latter corres­
pond stylistically to those of the lower culture level at
lust across the lava flow from Copilco, on its oppo­
site edge, at a village called Tlalpam, is the site of Cuicuilco.
It is situated about twelve miles southwest of Mex­
ico City.
Here in 1923 and 19 24 Cummings-^ carried out ex­
tensive excavations around an old pyramidal structure which
has been proved to date from the Archaic or Pre-Toltec per­
Sherds and figurines of the archaic type were dis­
covered in the course of these excavation.
The archaic material, mostly figurines, collected up
to this time had shown a certain homogeneity, especially in
technique; but there existed a variation in type so obvious
as to cause much doubt to develop regarding the validity of
Spindenfs "Archaic" theory.
Lothrop^^ in his publication of
Costa Rica pottery; Garnio-^ in his findings the same year on
Byron C. Cummings, "Ruins of Cuicuilco May Revolu­
tionize Our History of Ancient America," National Geographic
Magazine, 44:203-220, 1923; also "Cuicuilco, the Oldest
Temple Discovered in North America,” Art and Archaeology,
16:51-58, 1923.
S. K. Lothrop, "Pottery of Costa Rica and Nicaragua,"
Contributions from the Museum of the American Indian, Heye
Foundation, Vol. 8, New York, 19 26.
-1-2 Manuel Garnio, "Cultural Evolution in Guatemala and
Its Geographical and Historical Handicaps," Art and Archae­
ology, vol. 22, no. 6, vol. 23, nos. 1-3, Washington, 19 261927.
the Highlands of Guatemala; and Ricketson-1-^ and Amsden of
the Carnegie Institution at Uaxactun contributed more to
this existing doubt.
It was because of the need for more light upon this
particular problem that Yaillant^^ began his work for the
American Museum of Natural History at Zacatenco in 1928.
This site had been discovered by Boas, who had published re­
productions of figurines taken from there in his Album.
is situated on a hill near Guadalupe Hidalgo, a suburb of
Mexico City.
At the time when this work began Spinden, as stated
above, had grouped all figurines made by hand with fillet­
ing technique of feature presentation in an "Archaic Culture
Horizon." G a m o ,15 as a result of work done at San Juan
Teotihuacan, had discovered a "tipo de transicion" between
Early Culture figurines and Toltec objects. In the field of
pottery ware Kroeber
had classified sherds into four dis­
tinct groups.
These he had gathered from a number of sites
in the Valley of Mexico.
13 0. G. Richetson Jr., "Report on the Excavations at
Naxactun," Carnegie Institution of Washington, Yearbook No.
28, pp. 516-22, 1929.
1^ George C. Vaillant, Excavations at Zacatenco,Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, Vol.
XXXII, Part I, 1950.
13 Manuel Garnio, La Poblacion del Valle de Teotihuacan,
Mexico, Tomo I, 19 22.
13 A. L. Kroeber, "Archaic Culture Horizons in the Val­
ley of Mexico," University of California Publications in
American Archaeology and Ethnology, volY IV, pp. 575-4178.
Vaillant1s explorations at Zacatenco revealed a very
great diversity in types of figurines which permitted him
to distinguish three distinct periods of occupation by the
Early Culture people.
These he called Early, Middle, and
He was able to conclude that no such thing as one
homogeneous culture existed to leave behind these early
figurines, but that many different cultural groups must have
been present in Middle America.
He pointed out, moreover,
that these figurines, although generally lacking in quali­
ties of conventionalization based in ceremonial, were never­
theless far from primitive.
In November, 1929, Vaillant^
at a nearby site called Ticoman.
January, 1930.
began new excavations
Work continued here until
The results of these investigations at Tico­
man are very interesting.
As at Zacatenco, so here at Tico­
man figurines offered the most satisfactory evidence.
The variation of figurine type revealed three periods
of culture here, but the middle one appeared more clearly as
a transitional stage than as one of distinct feature, which
was not the case at Zacatenco.
The Early period at Ticoman
produced figurines of the same type as those produced by the
Late period of Zacatenco.
Vaillant sees this type here as
G-eorge C. Vaillant, "Excavations at Ticoman,” An­
thropological Papers of The American Museum of Natural
History, vol. XXXII, part II, New York, 19 31.
very homogeneous and dominant.
In the Intermediate period
at Ticoman he notices an era of great experiment and change
within the figurine plastic, which settles down, in the Late
period, into what he calls "a satisfactory and adequate plas­
tic representation."
The entire development over the three
periods here is seen as continuous without any interference
from outside or intrusion of any sort.
The general fact
noticed at Zacatenco that the "Archaic Culture Horizon" is
marked by extreme diversity rather than by homogeneity is
borne out again at Ticoman.
Literature on the cultures outside the Valley of
Mexico. After Vaillant1s work at Ticoman, it was his aim
to investigate the problem of the relationship between the
Late period of that culture and the civilization of Teo­
tihuacan, which presumably succeeded it.
His attention was
diverted to a site at Cuernavaca in the state of Morelos,
outside the Valley of Mexico.
Here in the ward of Gual-
upita, in a brickyard, excavations were begun in Tsnuary,
Vaillant was able to establish three main periods
of occupation at this site.
I, II, and III.
These he designated Gualupita
By a classification of materials, especially
Suzannah B. and George C. Vaillant, "Excavationa at
Gualupita," Anthropological Papers of The American Museum of
Natural History, vol. XAXV, part I, New York, 1954.
ceramic figurines, he was able to show that the Gualupita
I period was related to Early and Middle Zacatenco in the
Valley of Mexico, and that the types of figurines belonging
to this period were widespread in the state of Morelos.
Gualupita II figurine types appeared to combine the charac­
ter of those of Gualupita I with other elements from out­
These were found to be related to Early and Late
Ticoman, to certain figurines at Guicuilco and at Azcapotzalco.
-ualupita III was shown to correspond to historic
times and is believed by Vaillant to have been terminated
by the conquering ^ztecs.
Numerous objects were found here which must have ar­
rived by trade with contemporaneous tribes.
noteworthy are types of figurines native to Teotihuacan II,
which is that period commonly accepted as Toltec.
latter objects were associated with figurines of the Gualu­
pita II period.
As a result of his investigations at Gualu­
pita Vaillant suggests that the so-called Toltec period,
which is popularly thought of as a widespread and unified
culture, was actually marked by as much complexity and local
variation as the periods which preceded it and followed it.
He, therefore, prefers to speak of the site at San Juan
Teotihuacan, not as Toltec, but simply as "Teotihuacan."
The archaeological work carried out at San Juan
Teotihuacan has been very comprehensive.
This site, situated
about twenty-five miles from Mexico City is actually in the
northeast part of the Valley of Mexico.
however, as a small valley in itself.
It may be thought,
It is of especial
importance for the reason that here are found some of the
most impressive ruins of all Middle America, and also be­
cause of the fact that these ruins have been attributed to
the Pre-Aztec civilization known as Toltec.
Dr. Garnio,19
under whose direction most of the work was carried out here
for the Mexican government, has concluded that this site was
the legendary Tulan of the Toltecs.
periods of occupation here.
He shows three main
They are (1) the Aztec, which
was the latest; (2) the Toltec, an intermediate period; and
(3) the Archaic, which is equivalent to the archaic in other
parts of the Valley of Mexico.
The latter culture he divides
into two periods, one of which he sees as purely archaic,
the other a period of transition in the direction of the
His conclusions which are based to a great extent
upon a classification of ceramic figurines are stated as
Los arquetipos teotihuacanos no son otro cosa que
tipos norraales de la cultura arcaica, los cuales son
bien conocidos por la tecnica, que es de modelado rnuy
burdo y no de moldeado come en los tipos norraales
teotihuacanos, y por la forma de los ojos, que estan
19 Manuel Garnio , loc . cit.
representados por medio de incisiones oblicuas u horizontales, o bien tienen los parpados superpuestos nor
el sistema de pastillaje; se nota tambien en ellos un
pronunciado prognatismo, y en muchos casos constituyen meras representaciones conventionales del rostro
A1 llegar la poclacion de cultura teotihuacan al valle
de Mexico, se puso en contacto con la poblacion de civilizacion arcaica que ahi estaba establecida, originandose de este contacto un tipo de transicion escultorico
entre el arcaica y el que train consigo de otros regiones los teotihuacanos. . . .
Despues de alguna pernanencia en el valle, el arte de
los teotihuacanos llego a un florecimiento, produciendo
los tipos normales, que son mas realistas y acabados y
estan vaciados en molde.
las tres civilizaciones del Valle de Mexico representan
tres etapos de una gran evolucion cultural, a saber: la
arcaica, de iniciacion; la teotihuacana, de florecimiento;
y la azteca, de decadencia.
At no site in Middle America are the ceramic figurines
as plentiful as here, where they must have been used as votive
They have been found by the thousands.
in the main small heads, whose bodies must have been made of
perishable materials, they represent facial features of almo-st limitless variety.
Yet they all appear to be marked by
certain basic peculiarities of design characteristic of this
To Dr. Garnio1s three general periods of occupation at
PO Manuel Gamio, loc. cit.
Teotihuacan, Vaillant has added another."0
This he recog­
nizes as a transition period of clear character between the
Toltec and the Aztec, and he calls it the Mazapan culture
after the name of a section of Teotihuacan.
Linne22 has re­
produced typical examples of figurines from this period which
he recovered in the pursuit of his own researches at this
Archaeological work in the eastern part of Mexico has
not been as complete as that in the Valley, but the types of
figurines in clay from that region are easily recognizable
and may be found in many collections.
Most of these repre­
sent surface finds without any accompanying archaeological
As early as 1883, however, an illustrated account of
certain temple r u m s of eastern Mexico was published, u and
in 1907 Fewkes^
made his renort on the archaeology of this
region to the Bureau of American Ethnology.
In the twenty-fifth annual report of that institution
George C. Vaillant, "Stratigraphical Research m
Central Mexicoft(Proceedings, National Academy of ociences,
vol. 18, no. 7), Washington, 1932.
S . Linne, Archaeological Researches at Teotihuacan
(Stockholm: The Humanistic Foundation of Sweden, 1954)
23 H. Strebel, Alt Mexico (Hamburg: Archeologischer
Beitrage zur Kulturgeschichte seiner Bewohner, 1885)
24 Jessie Walter Fewkes, "Certain Antiquities of East­
ern Mexico," Twenty-fifth Annual Report, Bureau American Eth­
nology (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1907)
Fewkes describes the ruins near the present cities of Ver
Cruz and Jalapa in the country of the Totonac Indians, as
well as certain sites in the Panuco river valley, the habi­
tat of the Iluaxtec Indians.
Figurines are reproduced from
both areas, and they represent examples extending from the
archaic horizon to the period of Aztec domination.
Vaillant reproduces, for comparison, a number of
east coast figurines in his above mentioned report on work
at Zacatenco.
These are known to have originated in the
State of Vera Cruz and in the Panuco river valley.
have the same general characteristics as those mentioned
In Ellen SpindenTs report on the archaeology of the
Totonac site of Tajm, 2 5 an exceedingly interesting pyramid
in northern Vera Cruz State some two leagues west of Papantla, the Totonacs are shown to have held the most important
position among the other tribes of the East Coast region.
Like her husband, she inclines to the view that there was no
differentiation in the archaic period and that the different
individual cultures, the Huaxtec in the north, the Totonac
in the central area, and the Olmec in the south, developed
from that homogeneous cultural period.
Moreover, she per-
25 Ellen S. Spinden, "The Place of Tajin in Totonac
Archaeology," American Anthropologist, new series, v. 35,
ceives much common quality in the arts of these various
tribes even in late times, but enough that is different to
cause them to stand out as separate entities.
In fact, a
similarity is pointed out between the art of the East Coast
area and that of the Zapotecs of southern Mexico.
reproduced in her report are valuable for a study of the art
form of this area.
Danzel's Mexico II 26 is illustrated by some of the
finest examples of Totonac ceramic sculpture.
These "Laugh­
ing Heads" are thought by E. Spinden27 to date from the per­
iod of the Toltec ascendency in the Valley of Mexico.
In western Mexico, as in all other parts of the country,
clay figurines are among the common remains of the prehistoric
Despite the comparatively small amount of archaeologi­
cal work carried out in this area, enough finds exist for
general classification, and certain investigators claim to
perceive in them at least four distinct types of figurines.2e
The most important and distinctive culture of the west
2^ Theodor Wilhelm Danzel. Mexico II (Hagen, Germany:
Druck Von Bald and Kruger, 1922;, pp. 42, 48-50.
27 E. Spinden, ojq. cit., p. 270.
2® George C. Vaillant, "Excavations at Zacatenco,"
Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural
History, vol. XXXII, part I, New York, 1950.
is the Tarascan, which, according to J o y c e w a s a wandering
"Chichimec" tribe of people who descended upon an estab­
lished culture akin to the pre-Toltecs of the Valley of Mex­
They soon became a ruling class and gave to the whole
population the name, Tarascan, after their hunting Cod,
Their geographic extent is based upon material re­
mains as well as upon the Tarascan language, traces of
which are found from the Rio de las Balsas on the south,
into Jalisco and as far north as Zacatecas.
Two of the
most important localities are around the lakes Pazcuaro and
Although attention is frequently called to the re­
semblance between figurines of western Mexico and those of
the Valley,
rz p)
n? -i
Vaillant^-1- holds that they have little m
mon aside from technique of manufacture.
Moreover, he
points out that they bear no data as to period.
It would appear that figurines in western Mexico were
made over a long extent of time.
Existing collections re­
veal forms which vary from what is commonly regarded as ar­
chaic to what appears to be extremely sophisticated.
Thomas A. Joyce, Mexican Archaeology (London:
Phillip Lee Warner, 1920), p. 28.
30 Ibid., p. 19V.
o jd
cit . , p. 143.
conventionalization, such as is common to Maya and Zapotec
art, is universally absent in the western
a r e a . ^ 2
It should be noted that the scientific data for per­
iod assignment is very scant.
Classification according to
style, however, is quite possible, and from this, fairly ac­
curate opinions regarding period might be formed.
figurines, which stand apart stylistically from the archaic
examples within the same area, are generally accepted as be­
longing to a late culture.
But the fact remains that the
archaic type figurines may, in certain localities, have been
made at a very late date and it is quite possible that in
certain out-of-the-way places the tradition might still be
The type of figurine generally classed at Tarascan
is usually large and hollow and it represents both men and
women engaged in everyday occupations.
A series of such
objects, taken from a burial mound at Itzlan and now in the
American Museum of Natural History, has been described by
Those figurines commonly found within the Tarascan
territory and seen by Spinden^
as nearly identical with
Herbert I. Spinden, A Study of Maya Art, Memoirs of
the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology,
Harvard University "["Cambridge: Peabody Museum, 1913} , vol .VI,
p. 229.
^ C. Lumholtz, Unknown Mexico (New York: Scribner’s,
1902), vol. II, pp. ^00-ai5.-------34 Spinden, ojq. cit., p. 229.
/ r z ^ '
•\TUC oo M
,'iftROtiJc *
>(?c/e/y s /?/t7o
RfttYCHG QU(rMf)20 }
those of the Early Cultures of the Valley of Mexico are
small and solid.
Although possessed of a lively naturalism
which presents men and women in their everyday life, they
are generally regarded as representing pre-Tarascan cultures.
In the Maya area, due oossibly to the impressive
nature of the ruined cities with their wonderful architec­
ture and stone sculpture, figurines have not received as much
attention from the archaeologist as has been accorded them
in certain other parts of Mexico.
Their importance in con­
nection with the Early Cultures everywhere lies simply in
the fact that they comprise most of the material remains of
those cultures.
However, they were manufactured throughout
the Maya area from the earliest times; and, as in other parts
of Middle America, it is possible to observe here the main
division into the "Archaic" and the sophisticated styles.
The former are always hand modelled; the latter are gener­
ally made in moulds.
Butler55 has described two distinct classes of modelled
One of them comprises the typically archaic group
found from Vera Cruz State to the highlands of Guatemala in
no great numbers, while the other seems restricted mainly to
the east coast of Yucatan where it appears to date from a
late period and to represent a degeneration from mould-made
Mary Butler, "A Study of Maya Mould-made Figurines,"
American Anthropologist, new series, V, 37. 1935.
The archaic style is generally regarded as be­
longing to early cultures preceding the great Maya civiliza­
tion, but it is to be noted that it has been discovered in
horizontally stratified deposits in but three places throughout the Maya area.
At TJaxactum such figurines occur in the
lowest level, and Dr. Garnio 57 has found them at Miraflores in
the lower levels; and, again, mixed with historic Maya ma­
terial, in the upper levels.
The style has much in common
with the arenaic figurines in other parts of Mexico, but it
is probable that its differences are more significant than
its similarities.
Another group which Butler5^ sets apart in her sys­
tem of classification is that of brasero figurines.
are seen rather large figures of men and animals, made of
coarse clay, and attached to braseros in such a way as to
call to mind the funerary urns of the Zapotecs.
brasero objects were made in the late Maya period and have
been discovered in Yucatan, Tabasco, and in the highlands
of Guatemala.
The last group noted by this same author is that of
late mould-made figurines.
These latter, usually of well
Butler, loc. cit.
37 Manuel Gamio, loc. cit.
38 Butler, loc. cit.
fired clay, having a color range from buff to orange, aver­
age from fifteen to twenty centimetres in height.
They ap­
pear in great variety, but can be classified into several
fairly distinct styles which are based more upon facts of
representation than upon abstract design.
two styles which are widely distributed throughout the area
and several which are restricted to certain localities.
two former, one is characterized by the refined and realis­
tic way in which the human figure is represented in the
round, while the other is marked by a crude and bold tech­
nique where little attention is given to the execution of
In this latter style the author points out what to
her is a superficial resemblance to Mexican figurines and
suggests that this resemblance lies within a "feeling of
unity" common to both.
Among the several local styles
noted, some reveal a high degree of conventionalization and
all of them may well be modifications of the two more gener­
al styles mentioned above.
There is evidence that all these
different styles extend into the Old Maya Empire.
Another classification is applied by Butler to head
forms, where three types are noted.
Head form A is character­
ized by (1) an oval face, (2) a back-slanting forehead, (3)
Butler, loc. cit.
slanting eyebrows.
Head form B shows (1) a square, chubby
face, (2) a spreading, flatfish nose, (3) a bulging fore­
head, and (4) a short, rounded head.
Head form C, which is
rare in figurines of the realistic style, is marked by (1)
a roughly square face widest at cheekbones, (2) a very pro­
nounced chin, and (3) an extremely depressed forehead.
For an exact description of the conditions under which
Maya figurines of the mould-made type have been found the
reports by Gann40 of his excavations at 3anta Rita, British
Honduras, are excellent.
This author gives a detailed des­
cription of his work with various types of IJaya mounds and
reproduces numerous clay figurines recovered from them.
an annual report of the Bureau of American Ethnology,4^ full
color reproductions of some of these finds may be seen.
SjHuiden.42 reproduces figurines from the XJloa Valley,
Honduras; from lonuta on the lower Usumacinta in Tabasco
State; from Campeche, Yucatan, and Cosmuel Island.
selection from points so widely separated within the Haya
are, offers valuable material for comparison.
^ T. W. F. Gann, "The Maya Indians of Southern Yuca­
tan and Northern British Honduras," Bulletin, (Washington;
Bureau of American Ethnology), vol. 64.
^ Gann, op. cit., vol. 19, part II, plates MAAV,EiHlII.
42 Spinden,
o jd
cit. , plate 17.
Cf all the cultures of Kiddle America not one stands
out with more individuality and quiet persistence than that
of the Zapotecs.
At a tine when the late-coming Aztecs had
been successful in extending their domination in many direc­
tions and as far as the peninsula of Yucatan, it appears
quite probable that the Zapotee culture remained free and
intact with possible local exceptions of short duration.
G-ann^5 assigns to the Zapotee and Mixtee cultures the region
extending from Rio de Las Balsas in the north and west to a
line drawn between the towns of Teotitlan and Tehuantepec on
the Last.
He places the Zapotee people in the eastern part
of that area and the Mixtee in the western part.
It wall be
seen that this area lies between the land of the Maya on
the east and the land of the Aztecs on the north.
The Mixtee culture, although possessing characteris­
tics of its own, has so much in common with the Zapotee and
so comparatively little in common with the other chief cul­
tures of Mexico, that its art will not be considered separate­
ly in this study.
Richards says it is quite probable that
in ancient times the Mixtecs and Zapotecs were one tribe and
that subsequent local variations developed.
The Zapotecs,
living in the land of the Zapote, came to have cultural
A rZ
Thomas W. Gann, Mexico from Earliest Times to the
Conquest (London: L. Dickson, 1936), pp. 63-76.
traits somewhat different from those which were developed
by their kinsmen, who chose to inhabit the highlands to the
It is true, moreover, that the figurines of the
Mixtee culture were made, with comparatively few exceptions,
of stone and jade rather than of clay.4^
Clay figurines of Zapotecan form have been discorered
over a very widespread area and are not at all restricted to
what is regarded as the Zapotecan territory.
Examples from
the Valley of Mexico and from the Maya area are plentiful,
while traces of Zapotecan influence might be found through­
out all of Middle America.
± s Qf the opinion that
the Zapotee culture is profoundly indebted to that of the
Certain qualities of design which a re attributed to
Maya art and seen as Maya influence in Zapotecan art might
just as well have originated with the Zapotee culture and
spread from it into the Maya area, especially after the time
of the Old Maya Empire.
This is a possibility strongly sug­
gested by a study of ceramic figurines.
Moreover, the exis­
tence of clay figurines in certain collections having forms
of purely Zapotecan character but labelled Aztec or Maya4^
C. G. Richards, The Ruins of Mexico (London: II. E.
Shrimpton, 1910), pp. 100-154.
Spinden, 1938, op_. cit., p. 159.
San Diego Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
because of the fact that they were discovered in those
areas, makes a closer study of Zapotecan design seem exceed­
ingly desirable.
The site of Monte Alban has offered the most impor­
tant material for a study of those clay figurines which must
be recognized
as native to the entire Zapotee area.
mountain ruin, overlooking the present city of Oaxaca, was
once the capital of the Zapotee tribe until its abandonment
long before the arrival of the Spaniards.
It was replaced
as capital by Mitla, famous today for its unique architec­
tural ruins.
tremely rare.
Figurines at this latter site, however, are ex­
Other sites within the area which have pro­
duced finds of clay figurines are Tlacolula,
and, west of Tehuantepec very near the Pacific coast, the
site of Tonala.49
Although explorations have been going on intermit­
tently at Monte Alban for many years,50 the reports on recent
4-7 E. Seler, Ges amineIt e Abhandlungen zur amerikanischen Sprach-und Alterthumskunde (Berlin: IS02-1906), vol. II,
pp. 359-61.
48 Loc. cit.
49 C. Seler, Auf alten We gen in Mexiko und Guatemala
(Berlin: 1900), plate 6.
50 Marshall H. Saville, "Exploration of Zapotecan
Tombs in 3. Mexico" (American Anthropologist, new series,
1099), vol. I. and L. Batres, Exploredones de Monte Alban
(Mexico, 1902).
work done at that site under the direction of Senor Alfonso
R "I
provides adequate material for the study of the art
form of Zapotecan clay figurines.
Caso gives exact descrip­
tions of the tombs and of the positions and circumstances
under which the figurines were taken.
reproduced numerous examples.
In his reports are .
For excellent photographic re­
productions of typical Zapotee figurines, however, no better
work exists than that of Fuhrmann.52
Although for this study much use was made of archeologic a1 literature and photographic reproductions of figur­
ines, the most valuable material comprised original figurines
in the collection of the San Diego Museum of Archaeology and
Here numerous examples representing all the
different Pre-Columbian cultures exist and these were studied
at first hand.
51 Alfonso Caso, Exploraciones en Oaxaca, quinta y
Sexta Temporadas, 1936-1937 (Tacubaya, D.F., 19361
Ernst Fuhrmann, Mexiko III (Hagen i.W.: Druck von
Bald and Kruger, 1922)
o o
Fl<3|.4- THE C U L T U R E
An examination of numerous Zapotecan figurines, both
originals and reproductions, disclosed such a great varia­
tion within the detail of their material form, that the
discovery of any basic principle within their art form
seems at first thought impossible.
However, upon increas­
ing acquaintance with them and by comparison with the fig­
urines of other cultures there come to light certain for­
mal relationships which are unmistakable.
A lengthy study of these objects is not necessary
before their characteristic and most obvious qualities may
be recognized.
They possess even for the casual eye an ex­
pressiveness that is quite unlike that of any other style.
The difficulty lies within the problem of discovering those
qualities to the extent that they may be restated objectively
and in terms of fairly measureable space relationships.
difficulty is increased when it is realized that rarely if
ever does a figurine exist which possesses solely an art form
belonging wholly to one culture.
Zapotecan art form, like that of the Mayas, the Aztecs,
and all the different tribes, can only be understood as a
unique tendency within space order.
Such tendency can be
discovered through an examination of a great many examples of
of art objects and indeed it never exists apart from other
tendencies within the extent of the object's material form.
Moreover, the genius of the artist is such that oftentimes
he is able to harmonize two distinct tendencies of design
almost to the point where each becomes lost within the other
to produce something entirely new.
When this happens, of
course, a new style exists, a new tendency within space order
has been expressed.
A modification of both former tendencies
has resulted in a new kind of unity.
B e t w e e n the stage of such a happy marriage of two
styles and that where a union of comparative violence is
maintained, are to be found, possibly in all art and cer­
tainly in that of Pre-Columbian Mexico, many varying degrees
of harmonious relationship.
The influence within the form of Zapotecan clay fig­
urines which is at once noticeable is from the land of the
This appears to exist in two quite distinct forms
within these objects.
An examination of certain Old Empire
monuments1 and of figurines from Guatemala, the origin of
whose form is to be found within the Old Maya Empire, will
reveal formal relationships which are easily seen in many
Zapotee figurines as well.
These elements, however, are
^ Edgar Lee Hewett, Ancient Life in Mexico and Cen­
tral America (New York: The Bobbs Merrill Company, 1936),
Monument No. 11, quirigua, facing page 269.
found to be used in such a way as to contribute structurally
to the most essential character of Zapotee figurines.
have become a necessary part of the basic design of these
On the other hand, many Zapotee figurines exist
wherein qualities characteristic of Maya art are found which
appear strange and foreign to the Zapotee order.
In some of
these the Maya element becomes the dominant tendency of dep
These facts would suggest that two distinct periods
of intense cultural intercourse between the Maya and Zapotee
tribes may have taken place.
The development of such a
point, however, is beyond the scope of this paper.
The type of figurine most common to this culture is
that of the funerary urn.
Here the figure itself is quite
elaborate and so formed as to conceal a small urn attached
to its back.
and show
Such objects are usually, made of a bluish clay
signs of having been painted.
They are taken,
not from the tomb cells proper, but from positions in front
of them, either on the floor or in a niche over the door.
They have been discovered on the roofs of burial chambers.
Strangely, they never contain offerings.
Other figurines
representing both human beings and animals and made in moulds
from this same bluish clay are quite numerous.
These latter,
like the funerary objects, are usually highly conventionalized.
^ Ernst Fuhrmann, Mexiko III (Hagen i.W.: Druck von
Bald and Kruger, 1922), p. 67.
However, examples exist which are very naturalistic.
In studying these figurines, as well as those of the
remaining cultures, the object has been at all times to dis­
cover where nossible, not the elements which differentiate
one individual figurine from another, but rather those ele­
ments which appear to be characteristic of all the figurines
of each culture.
Nevertheless, this has required an examin­
ation of many individual examples.
The resulting discoveries,
however, have been basic enough to be present in figurines,
regardless of degree of naturalism or conventionalism.
One of the most important, even if less definitive,
characteristics of the Zapotecan figurine plastic lies
within a fairly constant relationship maintained between the
static, rectilinear system of lines and the curvilinear
system which plays about the static divisions.
Such a rela­
tionship, of one sort or another, may be found in the art of
all cultures and its study affords one of the most fruitful
approaches to the essential character of any art.
In Zapo­
tecan figurines, regardless of degree of naturalism and de­
gree of intricacy within the two opposing systems of lines,
it will be found that the static factor is dominant at all
times, serving as a restraining force upon the dynamic ele­
ment within the total design.
The Zapotecan designer achieves what to him is a real
and satisfactory space unit by means of a simnle geometric
In one sense lie sets apart or isolates from
its surroundings a certain amount of space and gives to it a
distinctive character at the same time by so forming his ma­
terial as to cause a geometric relationship of planes and
lines to become dominant within it.
These are easily ab­
stracted and will be found to be essentially the same for all
this plastic.
An analysis will reveal that in this Zapotecan design
the chief aim has been to create a simple, perceptually mean­
ingful unit within a limited amount of three dimensional
space; to give, first of all, a sense of finality and com­
It is as though great care were given to the
construction of a stage set where pathways are laid out in
geometric order over which dancers are to perform, the dancers
representing the curvilinear factor in the total design.
some examples the dancers are many and their movements over
the pre-arranged geometric system are rhythmic, extremely
varied, and free.
In other examples they are few in number
and their movements, although free, are simple and summary.
The convention or basic plan upon which the space unit
is based may be understood in various ways depending upon
which elements are examined by the observer.
If the plan is
looked at in terms of a distribution of planes in space, it
offers a clear and simple principle.
The Zapotecan designer
enters imaginatively into a space that is cubic and his en-
trance is made along one direction.
These figurines will be
found to embody a series of planes which are parallel and
vertical, as seen in Figure 5 below.
Such an arrangement of
Fig. 5
repeated two dimensional areas produces a convincing three
dimensional effect.
But unless tied together in some way it
may loose in unity and consequently in force.
The Zapotecan
plan, therefore, was simply to insert into the arrangement
one or a number of planes which would cut diagonally through
the vertical system as shown in Figure 6.
F ig .
Such an arrangement of planes as that mentioned above
possessed, in itself alone, qualities of strength of force,
clarity or simplicity, and unity, and these qualities are
all characteristics of the art form of Zapotecan figurines.
But there are other qualities held in common by these objects
which differentiate them more completely from the figurines
of other cultures.
It will be noted that all the Zapotecan figurines give
the effect of forceful contact with the surface upon which
they are placed.
If a comparison is made between a seated
Tarascan figurine and a seated Zapotecan figurine this qual­
ity becomes immediately apparent.
The Tarascan example will
be found to possess a great deal of activity of line and
plane, but practically all of that activity will be seen to
take place above the plane upon which the figurine rests.
Zapotecan figurine, on the other hand, is so formed that the
action of its lines and planes enters into the horizontal
plane upon which it rests.
A repetition of angles directed
downward accounts for this peculiar quality, which contri­
butes much vitality and strength to the basic arrangements
noted above.
The planes of that basic arrangement are so
shaped as to produce the effect of a system of forces acting
as seen in plate
This is true regardless of whether a
figurine is in a standing or seated position.
Another quality peculiar to Zapotee art form is to be
found in the way these figurines produce the effect of
lunging forward.
Although firmly planted in their seated
of standing position and expressing clearly the quality of
weight, they produce at the same time an effect of forward
moving forces which is a most important factor in their total
and unique expressiveness.
This quality depends to a great extent upon the paral­
lel disposition of frontal planes within the art form of the
It does not matter, so far as effect is concerned,
that some of these planes correspond exactly with the material
itself while others owe their existence to several points
adequately disposed within the material to cause the observer
to complete, imaginatively, their extension.
The repetition
of frontal areas of both sorts is numerous and the planes re­
peated are so proportioned as to create a transition which
steps forward to account for the peculiar expressiveness here
On the whole, the transition is from large to small
areas where the small areas are often provided with detailed
variation capable of drawing attention to itself from the
larger planes.
It is quite natural for the eye to take in,
at first glance, the large planes which account in a general
way for the character fo the figurines, and thereafter be
drawn successively to the smaller ones.
And it is thought
to be within this process that the quality under considera­
tion arises.
Other factors, however, may contribute to the effect.
It will be noted, for instance, that the material accounting
for the thickness or sides of these figurines presents sur­
faces whose directions are constantly changing.
Unlike the
front, the sides are not flat but rounded to flow into the
frontal planes.
The part played in the design of Zapotecan figurines
by the curvilinear system of lines conforms consistently to
a rather simple principle, although the degree of complexity
to which it is developed may account for wide differences in
general effect.
lust as a musical composition may be per­
formed simply or with added variation without any change in
its fundamental nature or structure so do these figurines
present comparable differences while remaining essentially
the same in principle.
In some of the simplest examples®
the curvilinear element barely emerges from the sculptural
mass and has its existence only because of the rounded forms
In others this element stands quite clearly
apart as a distinct factor within the total arrangement, re­
vealing a definite function.
In all cases it will be found
that the curves never interfere with or weaken the planes;
but, on the contrary, function to give added force to the
static, sculpturesque definition of space.
3 Herbert I. Hpinden, ancient Civilizations of Mex­
ico and Central mierica (Mev: York: American Museum of Natural
History, 1988), p. 158.
The curves accomplish this function in two ways.
They serve to animate the planes themselves and to give em­
phasis to the transition mentioned above.
It will be seen
that the curvilinear movements take place within each frontal
plane and that, as these planes recede, the amount of move­
ment is reduced until the large rear planes are noticeably
quiet or inactive.
2. M a i n h o r i z o n t a l a n a v e r t i c a l a i v i s i o n s i n Z a
p o t e c a n figurine.
5 + M a i n l i n e s o f a c t i o n in Z a p o t e c a n f i g u r i n e *
i>late 4.
Rhytnmic action
in Z a p o t e c a n f i g u r i n e *
6. Maixx h o r i z o n t a l a n d v e r t i c a l c a i v i s i o n s
Z a p o t e c a n figurine.
a r r a 11^
allel frontal plane
•ement in ***
A c t i o n of
es in Z a p o t e c a n
1c * r r i n c i p l e o f &_
te c a n f i g u r i n e .
it of p l a n e s i n S a p o ^
A c t i o n l i n e s whi
.ect h o r i z o n t a l p l a n e
o n w h i c h Zapotecn-n / i g u r i n e rests.
Vertical,horizontal and rhythmic
in Z a p o t e c a n f i g u r i n e .
13 . Z a p o t e e a n f i g u r i n e s h o w i n g c o m p a r a t i v e l y n a t u r
a l i s t i c form.
As stated in Chapter Three, the ceramic figurines
found within the Maya area appear to form two major groups,
each of which may present, in turn, material for further
These groups comprise, on the one hand,
all those figurines having the typical "archale” character­
istics as they are stated by Hpinden
and, on the other
hand, those in which the sophistication of the specialized
culture of later times is apparent.
The first group shows
at all times a hand-modelling technique, while the second
group in this area shows that moulds were in general use.
Examples have been found, however, which, although hand
made, belong to a very late period and reveal a form that
is a degeneration from early mould-made prototypes.
usual with Pre-Columbian ceramic ware, glazing is not found,
although the practice of polishing was common.
It would seem that one of the important problems
facing the archaeologist of this region is that of discover­
ing the true relationship between the great specialized Maya
culture and that which is indicated by the few archaic re-
^ Herbert 1. Spinden, Ancient Civilizations of Mexico
and Central America (New York: American Museum of Natural
History, 1928), pp'T 53-57.
mains found throughout the Maya area.
Such a study might
eventually account for some of the basic similarities noted
in the art of other Indian cultures, and it would call for
a most careful consideration of the figurines belonging to
the so-called archaic level.
It has been seen, however,
that to date these objects are barely known in relation to
stratigraphical research, and that such material is too
scant for a study of its essential design to be of value.
The present chapter proposed to point out the essen­
tial qualities of the most common types of clay figurines
found within the Maya territory and to show that these quali­
ties lie within a characteristic use of space.
It aims to
isolate the unique Maya tendency from other tendencies of
design often associated with it in the material objects them­
It is, therefore, concerned with factors, which,
because of their fundamental nature, are highly general.
As mentioned before, it is probable that no such thing
as pure design exists in art objects, any more than pure
race or culture exists.
The design tendencies found within
the Maya figurines suggest connections with cultures both
remote and nearby.
Some of these, however, may have no
such significance, and serve rather to support the view that
similar concepts and forms may develop in different parts
of the world where no cultural intercourse existed.
An exam­
ination of certain old Chinese bronze urns of the Shang
dynasty and objects made by the Haida Indians of queen Char­
lotte Islands will reveal proportions and qualities strik­
ingly similar to many proportions found within Maya art.
would be reckless, however, to conclude from this that the
Maya, the Chinese, and the Kaida were originally connected
or ethnically related.
But, on the other hand, such^similar­
ities of design do indicate a spiritual kinship.
They do
reveal similarities in mental traits in the way concrete
material becomes perceptually meaningful.
Other similarities, such as those noted between Maya
figurines and those of the Zapotec country, the quiche2
country of Central America, the Hauztec country along the
Panuco river, and the country along the Papaloapan river are
such that cultural intercourse of some sort can be the only
possible explanation.
Here are seen numerous examples of ob­
jects wherein the Maya tendency in art-form is at least a bor­
rowed element if indeed it is not the only element which is
not borrowed.
Very recent explorations in the southern part
of the State of Vera Cruz appear to prove that great Maya
settlements existed there as early as November 4, 291 B.C.
American Sources of Modern Art, The Museum of Modern
Art, New York, 1935.
Mathew W. Stirling, "Discovering the New World’s
Oldest Dated Work of Man," National Geographic Magazine,
Vol. LXXVI, No. 2, Washington, D. C., August, 1939.
And some of the clay figurines from this site show a highly
cominant Maya space order.
Nearby, the Totonac tribe pro­
duced figurines unique in their imaginative treatment of
If the mastery over space, as it is recorded in art
form, is any index to the quality of a culture, then the
Maya civilization may well be regarded as highly superior
to that of all other Pre-Columbian Mexican groups.
For the
mastery here attained over space is not only far superior
to that of other Indian cultures, but also it equals the
attainment of any known civilization.
This seemingly extra­
vagant statement may rest solely upon an examination of Maya
clay figurines, but if more complete support for it is
needed the great stone sculpture is available for study.
As was seen in Chapter Four, the Zapotecan artist
conceived of space as a cube upon which he was able to im­
pose order only by means of a repetition of frontal planes
tied together by other planes projecting at an angle through
Over any one or all of these planes he could imagine
related movements of some degree of variety and complexity,
but even upon these sure and established surfaces he never
ventured far in the direction of relationships wherein angles
and straight lines have no part.
After building a simple,
geometrically limited spacial unit he restricted his move­
ments to it and moved with some caution.
A study of the
figurines of the Maya artist, on the other hand, discloses
an entirely different situation.
Maya figurines vary extremely in their material form.
They embody images which range more freely than those of any
other culture between the abstract and the naturalistic, and
the subject matter of representation in them is equally di­
Some show human figures in the acts of everyday
living, while others portray purely imaginary beings, reli­
gious images, and ceremonial life.
Some are solid, while
others are hollow; some are painted, fired, and polished;
others left plain.
But all of them, regardless of degree
of naturalism of convention, betray a way of thinking with
space which, more than anything else about them, makes their
true identification clear.
The use of space characteristically Mayan, however,
rarely fails to suggest at the same time tendencies which
are native to other cultures.
Just as the Maya influence
may be seen within Zapotecan figurines; so is it quite com­
mon to find Maya figurines in which the Zapotecan order is
at least commented upon.
among late mould-made figur­
ines from Yucatan there is one type, somewhat crude and
lacking in attention to detail, whose geometric form is
very likely a case of borrowing from the Valley of Mexico.
These borrowings, however, generally are used with such
skill that they do not produce the "hybrid” effect noted on
occasion in works of other cultures*
And where a knowledge
of the design of other cultures is absent they might go un­
This facility in the use of modes of design native to
other tribes is a further indication of the mastery of space
characteristic of the Maya artist.
Inasmuch as the expres­
siveness of the figurines of a culture depends upon an est­
ablished space order the Maya craftsman, because of his
ability to move so freely in space, finds it possible to
include the points comprising that order within his own and
the effect is as though the foreign expressiveness, while
retaining its own individuality, functions freely and with­
out compulsion within a new set-up.
It will be noted at first glance that Maya figurines
are softer in effect than those of the other tribes.
will be found to lack the harsh and sharp angles, the hard,
forced planes.
All edges are rounded, no direction is sus­
On their surfaces straight lines are not to be
They appear to be made entirely of subtle and re­
fined curves.
Nevertheless, they are marked by great
strength and a close examination will disclose that this
strength lies within a geometric structure clearly implied
within the system of ever changing movements.
In the case of some of the more "conventional" fig­
urines, where this geometric factor becomes literal, it
will be found that the most subtle use of curves has been
Here the artist has managed to imply squares and rec­
tangles within the very circumferences of circles.
This is
done by defining a generally, circular area with circular
movements of different radii.
The result is a design which,
while having the dynamic quality of change, is at the same
time extremely stable.
It is an expression of unity or per­
manence within never-ceasing movement.
The use of material in such a way as to create in art
form of never-ceasing movement is perhaps the most funda­
mental characteristic of the Maya artist.
This character­
istic, however, is very general and does not completely de­
fine his work.
As will be seen, movement- is also very im­
portant in Totonac figurines.
An examination of these
movements in terms of the space they define or realize, on
the other hand, will disclose the specific character of Maya
And it is herein that the artist’s mastery of space
may be understood.
The excellence of any art object lies within the de­
gree to which the functional parts of that object’s design
in harmony with each other and to the end of unity of
An object in which lines, spaces, et cetera do not
work together cannot claim consideration as an art work.
will lack expressiveness.
But, it would appear necessary to
recognize different degrees of order.
The intention of the
artist is an important factor in the meaning of design.
Maya art is superior to Zapotecan art only in the sense that
the Maya artist’s intention was always more comprehensive.
The Zapotecan artist accomplished his object with complete
success, but his intention was limited.
And it is quite pos­
sible that such limitations should be regarded as cultural
It will be seen that the movements set up with the
material form of Maya figurines are not at all restricted to
certain pre-established planes.
Neither is it true that
their relationships are predetermined by rectangles and
All the points in space seem easily within their
relationships are predetermined by rectangles and squares.
All the points in space seem easily within their reach and
they pass through them at will.
figurines do not conform.
The movements in Maya
But on the other hand an expres­
siveness that is both profound and clear usually pervades
them; and, with all their freedom and subtlety, they main­
tain the strictest sort of order.
This ability to comprehend any or all points of space
within a perceptually meaningful relationship allows the
Maya artist a wide range of expression and permits him to
represent any degree of naturalism in his art.
because of this ability it is not surprising to find that
all of his works, regardless of the image they represent,
possess a life-like character in their form.
Regardless of
how fantastic some of his images may be, they nevertheless
embody a formal logic which makes them appear entirely plaus­
ible as representations of animal form.
His peculiar exag­
gerations of the human figure are presented as strange little
beings with as much life as those human figures whose forms
are presented in normal proportions.
Maya design is naturalistic.
In this sense all
It is a tendency capable of
comprehending all the forms of nature.
There is one other quality clearly present in Maya
figurines whose significance becomes more suggestive upon
the realization that it persists throughout all the variety
of expressiveness found within these objects.
This quality
may be discovered most readily through a comparison of the
most fantastic and intensely expressive Zapotecan figurines
with those Mayan figurines of the same nature.
It will be
found that such figurines of the Zapotec artist appear
actually to be all that they pretend.
If they are expres­
sive of violence or cruelty, these ideas along are experi­
enced by the observer.
They seem genuine.
And although it
is possible to take an objective attitude and abstract the
essential, formal order from these figurines, this abstract
order is never felt apart from the ideas expressed.
is much of the natural reaction to cruelty in the observer's
reaction to such figurines, regardless of his art experience.
With Maya figurines the opposite is true.
However, much
cruelty and violence may be meant, it is present at all
times in a pretending, playful spirit.
"just for fun."
It is presented
One cannot escape the fact of beauty it­
self being present along with the ideas expressed.
This objective attitude toward all ideas, this abil­
ity to present ideas forcefully but with a detached spirit,
is clearly shown in Maya figurines.
It represents an at­
tainment which is not equalled by any other Pre-Columbian
Middle American culture.
16. M a y a f i g u r i n e f r o m S a n t a Rita,
17 * M a y a f i g u r i n e s h o w i n g c u r v i l i a e a r r h y t h m
18. M a y a
c l a y v e s s e l w i t h head,
Santa hita
Late moulomade
o f
M a y a figuxiiie
P l a t e 20 * M a y a h e a d forms.
plate 2 K Maya figurine
* late
22 Main
action lines
In the western part of Mexico and particularly
around the lakes, Chapala and Patzeuaro, figurines of clay
are very commonly found.
As noted in Chapter Three these
objects were viewed by Spinden simply as representing a
continuation of his "Archaic horizon."
He saw in them the
hand-modelling technique and the representation of features
by means of fillets of clay which are characteristics of
the figurines of all the early cultures.
A closer examina­
tion, however, cannot fail to reveal qualities so peculiar
to these western examples as to suggest that rightly they
should all be set apart from those of other localities.
Moreover, in this area, two distinct general types emerge
and demand consideration.
On the one hand are found fairly
large, hand-modelied figurines, which are hollow, quite
sophisticated and usually painted and fired.
On the other
hand, there are the small, solid, impressionistic figurines,
also usually fired, which anpear to have much more in common
with the figurines of the early cultures of the Valley of
Every locality in western Mexico presents certain
minor differences in the form and material of the figurines.
Those archaic examples found in the vicinity of Lake Chapala
can be recognized usually by the exaggerated head shape,
while figurines from Zapotlan give more attention to details
of dress and tend to & fullness in the hips which is quite
From Tepic come small examples often made of
white clay with heads which appear to have developed out of
the more severe arrowhead type common to Lake Chapala.
Even within the vicinity of Chapala alone, figurines range
color from a brick red, through a light neutral gray,
to a very dark reddish black.
These material differences, multiplied when a great
number of figurines is examined, have not received careful
consideration, such as Vaillant has given to the figurines
of the Valley of Mexico.
And it is quite possible that
such classification will, when it is made, afford valuable
knowledge to the archaeologist.
On the other hand, the
characteristics they have in common are many and some of
these set them apart clearly from the figurines of the early
cultures of other areas.
Throughout this entire area the archaic figurines
lack all signs of conventionalization.
They are intended
to be naturalistic and they represent the everyday life of
the people.
Men, women, and children are represented in all
positions, and the forms appear to have been modelled with
complete confidence.
spoke directly.
The artist never faltered, but always
He never attempted anything he could not
carry out spontaneously.
The primary effect produced by these early figurines
is that they are very crude and but vaguely related to the
natural forms they pretend to represent.
The torso and head
are usually flat and the legs and arms are but rounded
strips or rolls of clay bent so as to extend directly from
the shoulders to the position of the hands.
The qualities of
the clay itself would appear to determine the form almost
However, upon closer examination, the instances of
reference to the
human anatomy are found to be many and
These early artists were keen observers and their
figurines are full of life and truth, once the observer re­
fers them to their subject-matter rather than to his own
They are impressionistic in the sense that they em­
body only relationships essential to express a generalized
statement regarding the action of the human figure as a
The human form is here presented only because of its
action, and the significance of these figurines lies within
the expression of such action rather than in an appreciation
of form r>er se.
When viewed from this angle, what on first
sight appeared awkward, becomes delightfully meaningful.
Such parts as feet and hands, which appear as crude stubs
from the point of view of anatomical form, when viewed in
terms of action, are found to possess a truthfulness that is
entirely disarming.
The facial features of these solid figurines also
give an impressionistic effect.
As summarily as the form is
here treated, the range of facial expression achieved is
nevertheless very wide and surprisingly true to nature.
is possible to identify types of Indians around Lake Chapala,
which correspond, impressionistically, to many of the faces
of the figurines.
Although the "coffee bean” eye, made by means of a
strip of clay attached rather freely to the face, is found
here; some of the crudest figurines represent the eyes
either by working the strips carefully into the head form
or by squeezing or pressing the clay out from the plane of
the face.
It will be found in the latter case that some tool,
possibly a small stick, has been used to form an incision in
the small mound of clay pressed out for the eyes.
And quite
commonly the same instrument was used to form the incision
for the mouth.
While extremely impressionistic it is nevertheless
true that all these western archaic figurines exhibit a
distinct style.
This style, however, is so uniformly and
consistently related to the naturalistic impression that it
should never be regarded as subjective expressionism.
It is
simply a direct and orderly statement, kept well within the
limitations of a certain material, of observed facts re­
garding the total effect of the human form.
It may be re­
garded as a simple, abstract design, but one which has its
source in natural form.
The importance of style in these figurines, however,
betrays a sense and appreciation of abstract order which is
anything but crude.
And quite possibly one of the most im­
portant disclosures resulting from a study of these objects
is that a refined and subtle feeling for abstract order can
be represented within an object whose material form appears
to lack any refinement of its own.
There are no evidences
whatever of attempts to present clay except in terms of its
commonplace qualities.
Even when polished, these objects
are obviously made of modest clay and they make no further
The style which they possess lies rather within
a broad relationship, which, while leaving out detail, is
nevertheless delicately adjusted.
this is not always the rule.
In primitive sculpture,
Examples exist where style, as
an easily perceptible, abstract, space relationship, barely
exists or is lost within the impressionistic effect.
As far
removed from the proportions of the human form as certain
wood sculptures from the Salomon islands may be, they are,
nevertheless, extremely naturalistic and almost completely
lacking in style.-1Eecause of the summary character of the design of the
western archaic figurines and the corresponding importance
within the total effect of the material out of which they
are formed, the discovery of those space qualities common
to them ail is difficult.
The qualities of the clay itself
are so pronounced because of the fact that the design is
so summary.
Both conditions make the problem of design an­
alysis difficult.
The design here is highly generalized.
It is more truly a tendency toward space order since material
form corresponds so meagerly with it, and therefore it is
extremely elusive.
It has been necessary to examine many
figurines of this type in order to discover the basic nature
their design.
These early people, if such art objects are their re­
flections, were possessed of a keen and powerful insight
into form.
The relationships which they establish in all
their figurines are characterized by much force or energy
and by a splendid economy in the attainment of spacial unity.
They could enter imaginatively into three dimensional space
more directly than the Zapotecan artist, even though their
culture may have been less highly evolved.
And because of
^ Eckart von Sydow, Die Kunst der Naturvolker and
der Vorzeit (Berlin, Germany: Propylaen-Verlag, 1932), p .241.
tilis freedom a degree of naturalism was well within their
This design, however, is not at all capable of com­
prehending all points in space, but in fact is limited in a
way which defines its essential character.
Its freedom is
not that found in the figurines of the Mayas.
There it was
seen that any or all points could be brought into the art
form because of the artist’s ability to think rhythmically
in all directions and to apply such rhythm either broadly or
within a narrow range.
Here, on the other hand, is found a
design where quick and forceful movements are made between
points fairly separated from each other.
It is as though the
artist, after establishing himself firmly at one point, sud­
denly jumps through space to another and then another until
he succeeds in defining the general outlines and the extent
of his object.
The effect of this design is a peculiar
jerkiness, where a relationship of triangles appears to give
the dominant character to the figurines.
And it will be
found that the action of these triangles does not take in
the horizontal plane on which the figurines rest as is the
case with those of the Zapotecan culture.
Although the two types of figurines noted above are
found in western Mexico, their chronological relation to
each other has not been determined.
It is quite possible
that both solid and hollow examples were made in late times
by the Tarascans and that other solid ones date from a PreTarascan period.
The classification into solid and hollow
groups, in that case, would be of very little value so far
as cultural significance is concerned.
It is thought, how­
ever, that the large, hollow examples are unmistakably Taraxcan since the early cultures elsewhere produced only solid
If the characteristics of these could be estab­
lished then it might be possible to discover which of the
remaining solid examples belonged to a late period and which
to earlier times, since the late examples, although solid,
could be expected to have much in common with the late hol­
low ones.
A characteristic which the large, hollow figurines
share with all others of western Mexico is lack of conven­
tionalized form.
No traces of prescribed rules are to be
found within them.
Like the small solid examples, they are
naturalistic in intention and represent human figures in
many different positions.
Their naturalistic effect becomes
very striking when a comparison is made with Zapotecan
It will be noticed, however, that their surface fin­
ish quite commonly includes the painting, in red and white,
of details of dress.
While this is extremely common with
these figurines, it is not at all common with the crudest of
the solid examples.
The latter, when closest to Spinden's
description of archaic form, rarely show signs of paint.
Both, however, are usually fired and often polished.
Another feature common to the late, hollow figurines
is the plastic representation of ear and nose ornaments and
of dress.
Where the ears in the solid, archaic
are little more than projecting planes made by
squeezing the clay between the thumb and forefinger, in the
hollow objects the ears are carefully formed and fitted with
earrings whose construction is clearly shown.
Nose orna­
ments or rings are inserted into the nose in such a way as
to show
careful attention to form as well as to action. The
effect which such nose rings
might have upon the facial form
and even upon breathing is carefully represented as well.
Finally, it may be observed that these Tarascan
figurines are marked by a great deal more surface quality.
Although they remain, in effect, distinctly ceramic they are
so formed as to enhance the common qualities of clay.
those qualities become merged with form, losing their com­
monplace character.
Th is las t characteristic is very important for the
reason that it exists as a formal distinction.
Such sur­
face quality is based within a preference for full and
rounded volumes, a love of form.
It reveals a mind now
capable of a raore complete mastery over material, where, be­
fore, that mastery consisted merely of a most summary rela­
tionship projected into it, however, delicately adjusted it
may have been.
These figurines are much less impressionis­
tic at the same time that they have become more naturalis­
tic .
Despite these important differences, one formal char­
acteristic rexaains which they hold in common with the crudest
of archaic examples from this area.
Their form is based
upon the same triangular relationship.
That summary treat­
ment of space comprising in the archaic examples the entire
art form, is here retained even though a more highly devel­
oped perception expresses itself.
p l a t e 2 6. L i n e
d r a w i n g of Tarasc&u f i g u r i n e
p l a t e 28. A r c h a i c
type h e a a f r o m n e a r L a k e C h a p a l a
t * L i n e d r a w i n g o f s i d e v i e w o f a r c h a i c type
h e a d ; 2, d r a w i n g to s h o w c o n s t r u c t i o n o f
s a m e head*
Angular action
l0 archai' V p e heaa.
Tarascan figurine
> 4
r^a'r * B
i ate C^apals*
from nefr ^BiLe
£ late
*>- ^ o h a i ° i f " *
34 * F i g u r i n e f r o m n e a r l'epic
bowl,Chapala district
Clay figurines along the east coast of Mexico from
the southern part of Vera Cruz otate to the Panuco river in
one north have oeen round In great numbers and their forms
vary from the extremely archaic to fairly sophisticated
mould-made examples.
Moreover, the migrations of peoples
and the contacts of various sorts between the different
kinds of figurines discovered here.
Objects of distinct
Maya origin are common, some of which must have belonged
to Maya settlements within the region.
Aztec and Toltec
figurines, possibly brought in by traders, often turn up.
But, besides these distinctly foreign objects, it Is not
difficult to discover qualities of design in figurines na­
tive to the region, whose origin must be placed within the
Zapotec and Maya cultures.
In the north the Huaxtec tribe
probably was itself an off-shoot of the main Maya group,
settling there, according to loyce^ even before the devel­
opment of the great Maya civilization of Guatemala.
Despite the endless number of indications of culture
admixture, however, it is nevertheless true that a certain
design tendency peculiar to this region makes itself felt.
^ Chapter III.
This tendency cannot be said to exist in all the forms found
here for the reasons mentioned above, but it is nevertheless
widely distributed geographically; and, quite probably,
chronologically as well.
And, in the case of Totonac figur­
ines discovered around the present city of Vera Cruz, it
develops itself to such a degree that its character is un­
mistakable .
Throughout the area are found numerous figurines
which would fall well within SpindenTs archaic classifica­
Undoubtedly, all these have much in common with each
other, just as they have much in common with the figurines
of the early cultures of all parts of Mexico.
They are ma­
terially crude, summary, and impressionistic.
They reveal
no tendency toward conventionalization, and they represent
the daily life of the people.
They are hand made, fired,
and lacking in attention to detail and surface quality.
It will be noted, however, that none of these east­
ern archaic figurines equals in summary simplicity the
crudest examples of western Mexico.
Compared to the latter,
they all are much more living, much more naturalistic; cor­
responding more closely, in this respect, to those solid
figurines of the west which show the characteristics of the
large, hollow Tarascan examples.
But with all their natural­
ism, they present a clear stylistic quality.
Aside from the general similarities shared with all
the archaic figurines of Mexico, they possess one basic char­
acteristic which distinguishes them from all the rest.
characteristic is a tendency to space order essentially the
same as that found in the sophisticated art of late times in
this area.
It is marked by a peculiar use of a linear
rhythm in the definition of spacial unity in design.
A study of the form of Maya figurines revealed a free­
dom of action within space characterized, by a very rhythmic
This quality was based within a system of transi­
tion which made much use of curved lines and surfaces.
though accents recur throughout such form, the effect is,
nevertheless, that all the points between such accents are a
part of the design.
In the crudest objects of western Mex­
ico, on the other hand, it was found that little attention
could be given to any coints between accents.
The eye, in
such cases, was forced literally to jump from point to point,
with the result that these figurines possess practically no
surface quality and an expressiveness characterized by a
It may well be true that the emphasis upon con­
tinuous rhythmic movement in the figurines of eastern Mexico
is a factor whose origin may lie within the Maya culture.
However, in this area it has its own peculiarities and can­
not be thought of as the true Maya order of design.
The curvilinear rhythm peculiar to this region is,
as mentioned before, most highly developed, and most obvious
in Totonac figurines, particularly in the so-called Laugh­
ing Heads.
Its tendency is two dimensional and non­
impress ionistic .
It can be discovered, however, unmistak­
ably, in figurines which are probably very early Huaxtecan,
and also in examples from southern Vera Cruz State which
suggest antiquity.
In the south it would seem to be more
persistent even in early times.
Plate 36
shows a small,
early clay head representing a type common around Cempoala,
Vera Cruz, in which this design tendency is extremely dom­
inant .
Within Huaxtecan examples it exists clearly as a
tendency which interferes but little if at all with a three
dimensional, naturalistic order even more reminiscent of
the Maya plastic.
These small figurines are not at all flat,
liven though they were made in such a way that their expressive­
ness is revealed only from front view, they were, nevertheless,
conceived of as simple volumes rather than as parallel fron­
tal planes.
In each figurine the several volumes define no
static planes.
On the contrary they are full and rounded
as well as being logically integrated.
And it is within the
disposition of these volumes to each other that they express
in action, which is the essential order discovered in all
eastern Mexican figurines.
Here is a clear presentiment of
a quality which becomes dominant in Totonac figurines, where
it exists more completely within the material form of such
In the TIuaxtecan examples, however, it is abstract,
in the sense that it has little or nothing to do with the
presentation of naturalism.
The points therein which define
this order do not necessarily correspond with those points
which create the naturalistic effect.
The laughing heads are among the most interesting
objects of art of all Middle America.
Spinden suggests that
they are probably the finest examples of clay modeling from
the New World.
They represent emotions which range from
laughter to a reluctant smile.
Their expression of human
emotion is extremely subtle and fully realized plastically
within a form that is very naturalistic.
And yet it will
be seen that the expressive order within these heads is
strongly two dimensional.
They are to be viewed only from
the front, a fact which is doubly proven by the existence
at their backs of tubular extensions by which they were set
into temple walls.
Although all of them possess many characteristics in
common such as very broad foreheads and faces, due probably
to a practice of deformation among the Totonacs themselves,
each one has such individuality that it is quite possible
they were portraits of individuals.
The representation of
subtle, human emotion contributes to this effect.
Besides these laughing heads numerous examples of
Totonac figurines exist which show the complete human figure
in a great variety of positions.
Some of these appear to be
but slightly removed from the archaic, and it might be pos­
sible to illustrate a very gradual transition from the latter
type to the most refined of late examples.
An examination
of the way the eyes are represented is especially interest­
ing in that it shows a transition from an oblong groove with­
out eye ball to a "smiling" oval shape with eye ball, which
is accented by the use of black bituminous paint.
All of
these figurines, however, are easily recognized because of
their common quality of design.
The rhythmic movements, which define the character
of Totonac figurines, are so forceful in some cases that they
tend to interfere with the naturalistic effect.
At all times
they lend to these figurines a unique style, an emotional
quality which is in fact often disquieting.
The laughing
heads show the greatest success in the presentation of na­
tural form in terms of this rhythmic order; where, at the
same time that the image of a laughing face is presented,
the abstract order is felt as a unique quality.
Here it may
be seen that the smallest detail is pervaded both by natural­
ism and by this dominant tendency to abstract space order.
The lips that smile to their very corners are lines which fit
simultaneously into the Totonac design.
In other figurines,
where less attention is devoted to naturalism, the rhythmic
order becomes more forceful and its abstract meaning is more
easily perceived.
Unlike Maya design the rhythmic movements which char­
acterize Totonac art are not free to go in all directions
or to bring all points of the material into their pathways.
The material form here is enlivened by movements whose dir­
ections are restricted to one plane and their total effect,
as stated before is strongly two dimensional.
As a result
of this tendency these objects of art never express as com­
plete a naturalism as those of the Maya.
Totonac artists
were incapable of as complete mastery of material as the
Their form is subtle and highly expressive and even
possesses a quality in common with that of the Maya, but it
is as restricted in its own way as the art of the Tarascans
of the Zapotecans.
Where the Maya artist could enter his material dir­
ectly and proceed in any direction therein, the Totonac
artist could enter only along the arcs of concentric curves,
which, while they might separate like parallel planes in
order to involve the third dimension, were never capable of
cutting through it or perpendicularly.
This does not mean that such directions do not exist
within the material form of his figurines.
In some of the
seated ones it will be found that he has made use of an ar­
rangement which suggests the basic plan of Zapotecan Funerary
urns, and it would be incorrect to overlook this arrangement
as a design tendency.
Nevertheless, the characteristic
Totonac factor is so dominant that it forces the observers’
attention to those points within the inclined material
planes which are a part of that factor’s essential rhythm.
Along the circumferences of circular discs, which are often
strung around the figurines’ necks and which establish in­
clined planes, there are certain points whose dominance is
to be attributed to the fact that they are within the path­
way of that rhythm.
It has been seen that the Zapotecan figurines make
much of an arrangement of frontal planes and that rhythmic
movements are restricted to those planes.
Despite this fact,
however, it was seen that these figurines give the effect of
coming forward.
This apparent forward action was attributed
to a forward transition through the parallel, frontal planes.
In Totonac figurines no such forward action is felt.
objects are completely lacking in that peculiar, aggressive
spirit even though their expressiveness is very forceful.
Like the Zapotecan examples they present three dimensional
space by means of parallel, frontal planes, but unlike them
they do not establish a forward acting transition.
It will
be noted, moreover, that the frontal planes within the
Totonac objects exist only as rhythmic, swirling movements
and not materially or aesthetically apart from those move­
The Totonac artist does not conceive of a plane
relationship upon which to allow movements to function.
may, on the other hand, define a plane relationship by the
use of movements.
The gentle expression of the Totonac art rests large­
ly upon the character of the rhythmic movements within its
In the first place, all sharp contrasts are elim­
inated or at least softened so that one direction is made to
flow smoothly and easily into another.
But, further than
this, these objects are so formed that their rhythmic move­
ments are very graceful in themselves.
They swing in long,
easy arcs like the motions of a pendulum, and these arcs,
which effectively blend into each other, set up a space
form of a very gentle yet forceful expressiveness.
plate >6. Laughing Totonac head
£late 37* Laughing Totonac Head
£late >8. Totonac figurine
Main action lines in Totonac figurine
40 • A r c h a i c
type head, f r o m n e a r V e r a C r u z
plate 41«. Concentric movement in archaic type head
plate 43. ITigurine from panuco river valley
plate 4^, Totonac figurine
4 5 *
Figurine from panueo
river valley
15 6
i?anu °°
The Valley of Mexico, like all other
fertile valleys
of the world, has always attracted many peoples who have
struggled for its control.
Cut of a considerable amount of
archaeological research here, it Is well established that
three distinct periods of culture existed.
Of the three,
the present knowledge of the earliest rests almost wholly
upon examinations of clay figurines.
These objects were
produced in great numbers, however, by the two later periods.
The early cultures.
The first period of occupation
of t lie Valley of Mexic o is referred to by some investigators
as the
'’archaic period,'r and it is regarded by them
closely related to a stage of culture which
parts of Mexico.
Other investigators, however, have been
so impressed by the great amount of diversity in types of
clay figurines in different regions that they prefer to
speak of the "early cultures," rather than use the more com­
prehensive designation, "archaic culture.
Already in this paper the attempt was made to show
that a fundamental difference exists between the figurines
1 Chapter III.
of the early cultures of western Mexico and those of east­
ern Mexico, and that the basic characteristics of each ap­
pear to persist in the more sophisticated figurines of later
The elements possessed in common, however, should
not be overlooked.
When the figurines of the early cultures
of all regions are seen in relation to those of the later,
specialized cultures, the fact of their common characteris­
tics takes on much significance.
Apart from certain similarities in technique, which
may as well be of spiritual significance as suggestive of
cultural borrowings, it will be observed that the figurines
of the early cultures everywhere tend to be impressionistic
and free from religious domination.
They represent the life
of the people in a summary form, which is based in a natur­
alistic intention.
Closer examination, however, reveals
distinct differences indicative of various modes of percep­
tion, of different mental traits.
The early figurines of western Mexico disclosed a
mind which sought out a relationship in material form com­
posed of forces acting along straight lines or rather be­
tween separated points within that form.
This peculiar
mental trait imposed upon the figurines a characteristic
”jerkiness," which is never absent even in late Tarascan
On the east coast, on the other hand, a curvilin­
ear, pendular rhythm with a two dimensional character
appeared to be the unique tendency in design.
In the Valley of Mexico where the figurines of the
early cultures are marked by the usual characteristics com­
mon to all others, it is much more difficult to discover
any formal tendencies which belong to this region alone and
which apply to all the different sites.
As seen in Chapter
Three, Garnio divides the early culture period at Teotihuacan into two parts.
One of these he sees as purely f,archaic
the other as a transition toward the so-called Toltec period
Cummings at Cuicuilco gives to the archaic period there, as
a result of studies made of the figurines, three divisions.
The lowest and earliest produced figurines with certain char
acteristics unlike any others within the Valley.
The middle
period figurines appear to have developed from the earliest
ones and they are the finest in execution and form.
last period here produced examples which could only have
been made by a different people.
These are very crude, and
clearly related to those found under the Pedregal at San
Vaillant, as mentioned in Chapter Three, produced
evidence which indicates even more Clearly that numerous
tribes existed here in early times, each having its local
characteristics, which are reflected within the design of
the figurines.
To add further to this complexity, it has
been discovered that many figurines from the east and west
found their way into the Valley of Mexico during the period
of the early cultures.
Despite the apparent differences between certain
figurines found at the different sites in the Valley, there
are others which are common to nearly all sites.
for instance, noted that the figurines of the late period
at Cuicuilco were the same as those at San Angel; and Gamio
saw no especial differences between those he found in the
lowest strata at Teotihuacan and others found throughout the
This, of course, would indicate that, while local
differences existed, there were periods when contacts be­
tween the tribes of these early times brought about a homo­
geneity in the form of the figurines.
An examination of the local characteristics which
account for the differences in types reveals a surprising
degree of variation and suggests strongly influences from
sources outside the Valley itself.
At Zacatenco and Ticoman,
for instance, figurines are found whose design has much in
common with that of the early cultures of western Mexico.
pronounced angularity in effect, especially within the heads,
is very noticeable in Vaillant’s types Hi, Hpp, and Hipj.
On the other hand, figurines are found at these same sites
whose form is marked by a curvilinear rhythm which strongly
suggests the figurines of the Panuco river valley.
show the same swelling hips and the same three dimensional
character of design.
The best examples of this type, however,
are from G-ualupita, in Cuernavaca, just outside the Valley
of Mexico, Vaillant*s types D and K, are especially to be
noted in this connection.
And, finally, it should be stated
that these two tendencies are found in combination, where
the heads are angular and "jerky,” while the bodies express
a pronounced curvilinear rhythm.
Among those figurines grouped by Vaillant into types
H, there are some whose design is very similar to the dom­
inant tendency in the Totonac figurines.
Further study
might prove that this quality is even closer to that of
figurines discovered in the G-uatemala section of the Maya
And in connection with this possibility it is inter­
esting to observe a number of small heads found at Ticoman
and classed by Vaillant as types 1, for they- possess a qual­
ity that is common to both Maya and Zapotec figurines, and
to Maya sculpture of the Old Empire.
After observing these variations and possible influ­
ences from different sources, there remain certain qualita­
tive similarities which might apply to all the form, and a
certain tendency common to all sites but not to all figur­
At every site, for instance, are found figurines in
which much use is made of the technique of applied strips
upon clay.
These figurines possess a quality which depends
upon the sticking on of small strips, rather than upon the
modeling of the clay mass.
It is a decorative tendency
which, is manifested as well in the way the gouges within the
clay are made.
Carried to such an extreme, it appears to
be a significant tendency within the Valley of Mexico.
figurines, which apparently use the mass only as a founda­
tion for applied decorative effect, probably belong to the
latest of the archaic cultures in the Valley of Mexico.
give the impression of being very crude.
There is one other quality which, although common to
the figurines of all the early cultures of Mexico, may be
more forceful in the Valley of Mexico itself.
It is one
which stands out at first as a feature distinguishing these
early objects from the figurines of the specialized cultures;
but once it becomes known, it appears most clearly through­
out the Valley.
This quality depends upon a peculiar ten­
dency which these figurines have to isolate themselves from
the surrounding space, and upon a highly energetic action
within the very limited extent of their design.
The Totonac
figurines are the exception, but they must be regarded as
belonging to a specialized, late culture.
They make use of
a rhythm which betrays a consciousness of a relation of
material to space.
Here in the Valley of Mexico, however,
the figurines of the early cultures show an intense preoccu­
pation with the material itself.
The Toltec period and the Mazapan culture.
The popu­
lar view seems to persist that, before the arrival in the
Valley of Mexico of the Aztecs, there existed there a highlyorganized and unified empire known as the Toltec.
There can
be no doubt that the finest and most impressive architec­
tural works in the Valley were erected in the Pre-Aztec per­
iod, but sufficient evidence exists to suggest that this was
no period of political or even cultural unity.
The differ­
ent sites had their own local characteristics and it is
quite probable that the Valley was settled at this time by
a number of independent tribes, each having its own chief.
On the other hand, the great creative activitiy of
one tribe may well have stimulated similar activity among
the others so that a period, uniform in its productivity,
may have resulted.
Of all the different sites which prod.uce
works from the Pre-Aztec period, that of San Tuan Teotihuacan has been given the most attention.
It was probably the
most Important at that time, and it offers a tremendous
amount of ceramic material for study.
This material extends
from the "archaic" cultures into the Aztec period.
At no
place are figurines so plentiful.
Dr. G-amio ’s designation, "Teotihuacan II," applies
to the period commonly called Toltec.
This is followed by
a period during which a production of clay figurines having
somewhat unique characteristics causes Vaillant to see it as
a transitional stage between Toltec and Aztec.
This he
calls the Liazapan period or culture, although it appears at
least possible that it represents no more than a variation
at one point while the usual Teotihuacan II figurines con­
tinued to be made.
This is followed by the period of Aztec
Small clay figurines, mostly heads, have been collec­
ted from this site by the thousands.
It was the practice of
these people to make the bodies out of perishable materials
so that the heads are all that remain to this day.
The fi­
gurines from the Toltec period are generally hand modelled,
quite flat, and with eyes made by means of slits in the clay
or with small fillets of clay.
Head-dresses, neck scarfs,
and sometimes ear ornaments are indicated, but where these
elements are applied with bits of clay, they do not give the
effect of a superimposed decoration.
clearly a part of the expressiveness.
The clay mass is
Although flat, like
their predecessors, they present a plastic quality.
In some of these heads the design is very summary
while in others a great deal of attention is given to detail
for the sake of a representation of individuality.
It is
quite possible that many of them are portraits of individuals.
The number of individual types represented seems endless.
Looking at many of these objects, one is impressed by the fun­
damental similarity which the simplest and most summary ones
have to the archaic figurines.
.although possessing a strong
stylistic tendency they appear, nevertheless, to be quite
And, as in the figurines of the early cul­
tures throughout Mexico, this impressionistic quality is
shown within an expression of action rather than within an
interest in material proportion.
Despite the endless variety of facial expression
found in these objects; and, in the case of the simplest ex­
amples, a decided impressionistic effect, it may be seen
that they are all affected by a tendency to a horizontal or­
The eyes, the mouth, the forehead, the lines of the
head-dress, et cetera usually are felt as repeated horizon­
tals which contribute a simple harmony to their expressive­
It is, moreover, around this strong, static "arma­
ture " that the movements in the modelling are able to achieve
the apparent variety.
From the crudest to the most highly refined no effort
is made to represent naturalistic "form."
What is repre­
sented is naturalistic facial expression.
The human head,
as a three dimensional volume, is not regarded.
All these
figurines are simply faces, and the subtlest modeling found
within them is to the end of representing individual facial
features and expressions.
They are three dimensional ob­
jects themselves, however, and what thickness they have func­
tions nicely in an impressionistic manner.
that way, to the meaning of the faces.
It does add
The horizontal relationship combined with a surface
modeling which is rhythmic and refined, gives to the little
heads of this period an expressiveness that is gentle and
They are never weak, but they are rarely aggressive.
Their formal order can be entered directly and it is free
and extremely varied within its comparatively narrow scope.
These little figurines produce the effect of being somewhat
reposeful and relaxed rather than tense and energetic.
no case do they show signs of fanatical, religious domina­
tion .
Those figurines mentioned above as indicating to
Vaillant a transitional culture between the "Teotihuacan II"
and Aztec periods commonly represent the entire human figure.
They show at times a great deal of detailed ornament, head­
dresses, and clothing and quite often represent the human
figure as wrapped in blankets.
Because of the unusually
large head for the size of the body they have a squatty ap­
pearance; and, along with it, a very compact, unified mass.
These characteristics combined with very narrow shoulders
make them appear much like a penguin.
Otherwise, these fi­
gurines seem to embody the essential quality of the Teotihuacan objects.
It is even possible that their seeming nearness
to Aztec design may rest unon the strong static relationship
within the bodies, intensified perhaps because of the fact
that it exists apart from the representation of facial emotion.
The Aztec period.
Ceramic finds at Teotihuacan which
date from the period of Aztec domination are comparatively
This site, which flourished throughout the "Toltec7*
period as a great religious center lost its importance with
the growing power of the Aztecs.
Nevertheless, figurines
taken from there represent very well the typical forms of
the Valley during this late time.
They occur always near
the ground surface, and the great majority of them are mouldmade and lacking, therefore, in the sharp detail of earlier
They often represent deities wearing their charac­
teristic dress and carrying ceremonial objects.
Among the finds which occur in these surface deposits
throughout the Valley of Mexico and which belong to the Az­
tec period, there are many examples to indicate the close­
ness of cultural contact between the different tribes at
this time.
Figurines having the design of each of the dif­
ferent regions are commonly found and there can be little
doubt that these were imported.
design are plentiful.
Moreover, hybrid forms of
There are examples wherein the heads
belong to one culture while the bodies appear
to have the
design of another; figurines in which the basic design traits
of several cultures are apparent.
Despite the numerous indications of cross influences
as well as the fact that the Aztecs, upon their arrival in
the Valley, were a crude people with few arts, it is, never­
theless, apparent that this period produced its characteris­
tic art form.
The design f actors whose origin may be traced
to the hayas, the Zapotecas, the Tarascans, and the Totonacs,
are easily dominated if not wholly assimilated by this new
The Aztec figurines possess characteristics which
set them apart clearly from all the rest.
Like the figurines of all the different cultures ex­
cepting the Mayas these were made to be viewed from the front.
The artist was not concerned that they should be expressive
from any other viewpoint.
They are not, however, flat ob­
jects, nor are they two dimensional in design.
The heads un­
like. the Toltec examples from Teotihuacan, are not mere faces
but show the features clearly as a part of a three dimen­
sional volume.
These figurines, while retaining a great deal
of the impressionistic truth of the archaic forms, show that
the artist was very much concerned with form, with proportion
in material.
There are, or course, numerous examples of fi­
gurines in low relief where the design is obviously two di­
These do not indicate the capabilities of the
Aztec designer and for the purpose of studying his character­
istic use of space they are of no aid.
The Aztec figurines reveal the imaginative form that
can be compared more easily to that of the Zapotec than to
the forms of any other Pre-Columbian Mexican culture.
yet the two are vastly different.
They both are geometric
in character, making much use of places in their mastery
over space.
But whereas the Zapotecan form involves an ar­
rangement of planes in parallel order, the Aztec form has
the character of a block, wherein planes meet each other at
right angles.
These figurines, because of this kind of ar­
rangement, appear heavy, solid, and strangely real.
are marked by simplicity, great stability, and strength
rather than by refinement.
The angular, geometric form which the Aztec figurines
possess is a basic characteristic, but the peculiar action
within this form which results from a proportion
planes and masses accountsfor their unique qualities.
like Old Kingdom Egyptian sculpture in stone which is itself
very geometric, these figurines do not possess an impersonal
sort of expressiveness.
Behind their apparent "universal-
ity” there lies the "here and now," the mind of the selfconscious individual.
It comes through as a penetrating,
cruel, and insidious force bent upon readjusting
all things
within its path to fit its own narrow order, but
of compromise.
This force pervades the entire form to the
extent that it can be perceived in the smallest fragment of
a broken figurine.
The Aztec form gives the effect of possessing great
It is hard and contracted, isolating itself as
completely as possible from the surrounding space, and show­
ing no inclination to recognize within itself any harmonious
or friendly relationship with the outside world.
This form
does include a series of directions which converge toward a
point in front of the mass, but these act as a spearhead by
which to drive through space rather than to blend harmoni­
ously with it.
plate 47. Keaa from l'icomau, Talley of Mexico
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F i g u r i u e f r o m V a l l e y o f i i e x x c o.Farly t o U t u r e
45. x*1*
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" 'S S
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4^ ^
° uJ-tu
jj r ri*-,
X i Q Q t '°»i
liarly c u l t u r e heaa, V a l l e y o f M e x i c o .In
fluence from Zapotecan region
33 * K e a a s f r o m iiarly c u l t u r e s , V a l l e y of M e x i c o
>>. b e a d s f r o m Teo tijjuacan.
b , t r a n s i t i o n a l types;
a, a r c h a i c types;
c,ioltec types !
56 . T e o t i h u a e a n I I h e a d s
Figurine f r o m M a a a p a a culture
i - l a t e 36. Aztec fig u r in e
Before proceeding with a study of the ceramic figur­
ines produced by the Pre-Columbian cultures of Mexico it
was thought advisable to state as briefly as possible the
basis for such a study and its particular aims.
This basis
comprised a number of general assumptions, the soundness
of some of which an attempt was made to show.
Others were
accepted as self evident.
It was assumed that the "design’1 of material objects
of art expressed a certain intention on the part of the ar­
tist and that it exists within the material object as a
dominant tendency toward an abstract space order.
space order, or art-form was conceived of as comprehending
certain points within the material and not others, and as
representing in space the essential character of a mental im­
Because of the dominant position of that space rela­
tionship which comprises the design within the material ob­
ject, it was argued that this design was communicable, that
it was within the reach of actual experience, and available
for objective study and analysis.
It was recognized, how­
ever, that such design was highly abstract; and, therefore,
that the conclusions reached in this study should not be
regarded as entirely valid until similar studies had been
made by experienced students of art, who might concur in
The space order of design was thought of as record­
ing basic mental traits as revealing the characteristic way
in which the mind gains mastery over material, and the de­
gree of that mastery.
It was assumed, further, that the
artist in each culture leaves within his own individual
works evidence that is essentially cultural.
And, finally,
the view was taken that the order of design of a culture is
as truly expressed within the minor arts, such as clay
figurines, as it is within the so-called major arts, such
as monumental sculpture and architecture.
The material for this study comprised numerous orig­
inal figurines and photographs as well as comments upon and
descriptions of these objects by eminent archaeologists.
Critical estimates of this material, from the point of view
of art, were practically non-existent; and, where found,
were often expressed in vague language.
Care was taken to
insure as far as possible that the figurines studied were
known to belong to a definite region and where possible to
a definite site and period.
The design of most of these
works was studied over a period of two years, of others at
intervals over a period of twelve years.
Numerous drawings
of them were made, both literal and analytical, and some
reproductions carried out in clay.
The ceramic figurines of the Zapotecan culture re­
vealed clearly influences from the Maya area.
Some of these
appeared to he well assimilated while others appeared less
The Maya factor most harmonious within the Zapotecan
design is common to the design of the Old Kingdom of Guate­
The less harmonious influence may have originated in
Despite the Maya influences which are apparent in
Zapotecan figurines, however, the latter have unique quali­
ties of their own.
Their peculiar expressiveness is based
within a dominating static, geometric relationship of par­
allel planes, which are pierced by diagonal ones.
Upon the
parallel, frontal planes a subordinated rhythmic movement is
found to play.
These rhythmic movements develop in the dir­
ection of intricacy in direct proportion to similar develop­
ment by the geometric relationship, and they remain at all
times subordinate to it.
A subtle transition from the rear
planes to the front ones gives to all these figurines a
peculiarly aggressive expressiveness.
In the Maya area the figurines can be classed into
three main groups.
The handmade examples would comprise one
and the mould-made examples another.
The third is a type
of figurine which, although handmade, is an outgrowth of or
a degeneration from the mould-made type.
The first group
either corresponds or is related to Spinden’s archaic type.
The second and third groups are late, belonging to the
highly specialized Maya culture.
The Maya figurines are extremely varied in subjectmatter and representation.
They are all marked, however,
by certain qualities which must be regarded as characteris­
tics of this culture.
These figurines reveal the greatest freedom in the
creation of spacial unity.
No other figurines in Pre-
Columbian Mexico approach them in their spacial complete­
The Maya artist was seemingly capable of bringing
any or all points within his material into the form of his
design, and because of this great mastery he was able to
achieve a naturalistic expression.
These figurines incor­
porate a space order which is felt to be harmonious with the
space outside the material itself.
Finally, it may be seen
that the Maya artist assumed an objective attitude toward
all ideas and expressed truly aesthetic experiences within
rnany of these works,
In Western Mexico the archaic type of figurine per­
sisted into late times.
The Tarascan culture produced works
as late as the Aztec period which possess characteristics
relating them to the crude archaic examples.
In this re­
gion it would seem natural to divide the figurines into two
main groups: the large hollow examples, and the small, solid
A study of these groups, however, suggests that cer­
tain of the small, solid figurines have the essential quali­
ties of the large, hollow ones, while other solid examples
are cruder and more summary in design.
The Tarascan culture
undoubtedly produced both solid and hollow figurines, and
the Pre-Taraocan culture produced small, solid objects.
Although all the figurines of western Mexico possess
certain characteristics in
common with the general type
of "archaic" figurine described by Spinden, while some of
the crude, solid ones have much more in common with this
general type, it is probably a mistake to group them in that
They are different in a very positive and significant
way from the figurines of the early cultures of other re­
gions .
Both the Tarascan figurines and those which may be
Pre-Tarascan have a strong, impressionistic quality.
is true of all archaic type figurines in Mexico, but further
than this, their impressionism is characterized by a rela­
tionship of angles and straight lines.
It is this struc­
tural feature of their design which differentiates them from
the ceramic figurines of all other parts of Mexico.
The de­
sign of the Tarascan figurines is less summary, with the re­
sult that they possess more surface quality at the same time
that they betray an interest in form.
All these western
examples, while naturalistic in intention, show a great deal
of style.
The coastal region of eastern Mexico, from the south­
ern part of the State of Vera Cruz to the Panuco river in the
north, was the home of Pre-Columbian peoples who developed
individual characteristics and who left art works of unique
Here are found ceramic figurines of great
variety of outward form and subject-matter which range from
types essentially archaic in character to others highly
sophisticated and as refined as any found in all of Mexico.
The influence of the Maya culture is very apparent through­
out this entire region and the form of the figurines alone
would suggest that early migrations of Maya tribes must
have passed this way.
There are, moreover, other foreign
influences to be observed here.
Aztec, "Toltec," and even
Zapotec figurines have been discovered, while especially
Zapotec quality is often to be seen within figurines native
to this region.
The culture in the northern section has left much
ceramic material in the Panuco river valley.
This was the
land of the Huaxtec tribe, which, according to some authori­
ties, was an outlying Maya tribe, one which had become sepa­
rated at a very early date from the main stock.
In this
area the figurines are rather crude and impressionistic,
lacking in conventionalized form, but clearly three dimen­
sional in concept.
They are full and rounded, rather than
angular, and it is within the use of curved, rhythmic sur­
faces for the effect of spacial unity that the Maya factor
Along with the above characteristics these figurines
present an abstract, rhythmic relationship which is strongly
two dimensional in its effect.
This linear, rhythmic order
exists because of a felt action brought about by the dispo­
sition of the volumes to each other within the total form of
the figurines.
It is this two dimensional design, having a
peculiar, pendular action which is the dominant tendency
throughout the east coast area.
It develops itself to the
highest point in the Totonac figurines found around the
present city of Vera Cruz.
Totonac figurines represent the human figure in vari­
ous positions and appear to be concerned with his everyday
They are very free from conventionalized form based
in religious symbolism.
Possibly the finest examples, from
the point of modelling and design, are the so-called laugh­
ing heads.
These objects, while strongly two dimensional
in effect, nevertheless, express a fine naturalism.
represent the human face in all stages of mirth from
laughter to a slight indication of a smile, and the rhythmic
movements, noted as a superficial tendency in Huaxtec figur­
ines, become in these objects a means of expressing natural­
ism itself.
While possessing curved, surfaces and ever-changing
directions, which relate these heads to the Maya plastic,
the rhythmic relationships within their art form achieves a
spacial unity that is far removed from that found in the
Maya objects.
This design is characterized by a beautiful
freedom, but it will be found to be a freedom which has its
fixed limits within space.
The movements perceived are
limited to frontal planes only, which they themselves de­
Nevertheless, these laughing heads of the Totonacs
express a gentleness and grace that places them among the
most pleasing objects of art produced by the Pre-Columbian
cultures of Middle America.
Turning to the Valley of Mexico an almost bewildering
amount of ceramic material is found.
In no part of that
country has the archaeologist done more exhaustive work and
in no part has there been more cultural activity since the
earliest of times.
Figurines from ail regions have been re­
covered here in their purest forms, along with hybrid exam­
ples embodying design tendencies of various cultures in
strange combinations.
Out of this great variety, however, the archaeologists
have achieved an orderly picture of the past and much of that
picture has resulted from a study of the clay figurines.
work of Gamio, Vaillant, and Cummings is based, to a great
extent, upon such objects.
The figurines in the Valley which belong to the early
cultures show great variety between sites and even on differ­
ent levels at each site.
But they all have much in common.
They are crude, impressionistic, and free from religious
At all sites there appears a type wherein a
decorative tendency is shown in the way small fillets of
clay are applied and gouges are made within the clay mass.
And finally, it will be found that they all are compact, en­
ergetic little forms, which recognize no points outside
their own material mass.
The period of the Early Cultures in the Valley was
followed by the intermediate period of great achievement
commonly known as the Toltec.
The site standing out as most
important at this time is San Tuan Teotihuacan, which pro­
duced many great monuments as well as a seemingly unlimited
number of clay figurines.
These Toltec objects, mostly clay
heads, are really but little faces.
They are hand modeled,
quite flat, and with eyes made by means of slits in the clay
or with small fillets of clay.
Thus do they suggest their
They represent facial expression with great
skill and conviction, and are quite possibly portraits of
The great variety of movement achieving this
effect is always presented around a strong horizontal re­
lationship which is felt because of the repeated directions
in the representation of the mouth, eyes, forehead, head-
19 2
band, neck scarf, and so forth.
These snail heads give a
naturalistic impression, despite their flatness, and they
are decidedly free from conventional, symbolic form.
At this site of Teotihuacan, Vaillant called atten­
tion to a type of figurine which was just prior to the
Aztec period and which he regarded as a transitional type.
It commonly represents the entire figure, is often hollow,
and has a design in which the geometric order is strongly
These little objects, in their general action, sug­
gest little Penguins.
They represent what Vaillant has
termed the Kazapan culture.
The Aztecs brought about a great change in the form
of the figurines of the Valley, although they arrived with
a crude culture and with very few arts.
Signs of intense
cultural intercourse are plentifully reflected in the forms
of the figurines dating from the period of Aztec domination;
and yet, there exist examples whose forms are typical of
this period.
These are ail narked by great simplicity and
strength, by a truly geometric and stylized order, and by a
compact relationship which may indicate an extremely narrow
and materialistic yet forceful and tenacious mental point of
The results of this study might add a nev-/ kind of evi­
dence that the peoples of Middle America, from the earliest
of times, were divided into numerous units, each having its
O ^Z
own peculiar cultural characteristics, but nevertheless,
carrying on a cultural intercourse with one another.
study suggests further that unique mental traits, unique ways
of interpreting the images of the world, and of representing
those images developed in different regions, accounting for
forms of art that are fundamentally different.
It also in­
dicates that these fundamental processes, developed clearly
by the time of the Early Cultures, persisted into the per­
iods of the great specialized cultures of much later times.
And, finally, it is hoped that this study may contribute to
a more complete realization of two points: that the products
of the Pre-Columbian civilizations of Middle America should
be regarded as meritorious works of art, and that a study of
the qualities of the art of a culture affords an insight
into the life of that culture which cannot be replaced by
material evidence alone.
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