Olmec Jade Art

Mesoamerica is home to a wide and diverse range of individuals, each marking the land with their unique style and culture - one of those being the Olmec’s. The Olmec people resided during the formative period in Mesoamerica, as early as 1500BCE to about 400BCE, is now modern Mexico and Guatemala. Olmec Art is often seen as some of the most stylistically beautiful. Often simple and considered “naturalistic”, the artwork carries across themes and traits specific to its people. They depicted cleft heads, were sometimes anamorphic, baby-faced, and with full curled lips, the works of art by the Olmec were simple yet highly elegant.

One of the more abundant creations found, were the Olmec figurines. Widely spread across Mesoamerica, the styles of the figures are Olmec in origin, which were often found in graves and households. These figures were simple, presenting minimal characteristics and were almost exclusively nude. They were often made from terracotta, jade, greenstone and other mineral stones.

The “baby faced” figures, have puffy slit eyes, full lips that curl at the ends, and chubby bodies. They are typically naked lacking genitalia; more emphasis is given to their faces rather than their overall bodies. They are generally quite small, roughly ranging at ten inches in height.  Their purpose to Olmec culture is unknown, however one would assume it to be significant based on the sheer number of figurines found.

Another example of the Olmec figures is the elongated man. Stiffly standing, it lacks great detail just like the “baby-faced” figures. It retains the same puffy-like slit eyes and curled lips. These figures however have thin limbs and flat topped elongated bald heads. They can be clothed at times, and if anything, they have a loin cloth represented by lines scratched into the material; same goes for toes and fingers. Holes penetrate their small ears, which suggest the figures were at one point possibly adorned with jewelry or fabric.

The “transformation” figures are also popular for the Olmec’s. The “Were-jaguar” was popular mythology at the time and were often represented as if in mid transformation. They were baby-like in appearance, with almond shaped eyes, human noses and a snarling mouth with curled lips. The figures are frequently shown with clefts on the head, cross bars, or adorned with headdresses. They range from almost fully human to practically entirely animal, however managing to retain distinctive features as mentioned before. Their purpose is unknown, with suggestions ranging from religious, stylistic or artistic preference. However, they have managed to retain the charm they must have possessed so long ago, as they still captivate with their simple eloquence.

Tia Ramirez



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