"Smiling" Figures of Veracruz

"Smiling" Figures of Veracruz

Between 300 and 900 AD, the present-day region of Veracruz (located along Mexico’s gulf coast) experienced a flowering of civilization and growth of many population centers. One of the arts most widely practiced in the region was that of ceramic sculpture. In addition to creating innumerable functional items, ceramicists fashioned figurines of all kinds, representing humans, animals, and spiritual personae. Of these figures, a particular group caught the attention of scholars and arts enthusiasts after excavations conducted in the 1950s in and around the Remojadas site of central Veracruz. These figures were small and hollow, and depicted humans with what appear to be smiling expressions in a variety of poses and costumes. While some suggested these figures depicted lively characters, others wondered if they were not illustrations of painful grimaces, drug-induced trances, or served as funerary objects. After an initial flurry of interest, scholarly examination of these items quickly tapered off, leaving many questions unanswered and scholarship undeveloped. Ultimately, little is know about the Remojadas figurines.

1979.206.1211 "Smiling Figure" (Mexico, Remojadas) *

  • Arnold III, Phillip J. and Christopher A. Pool, eds. Classic Period Cultural Currents in Southern and Central Veracruz. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 2008. [T4C A11C61]
    • In-depth studies seek to create a broader picture of the cultures in the period and region of the Remojadas figure. Scholars discuss architecture, political economy, language, settlement patterns, and iconography in diverse artistic media throughout Southern/Central Veracruz in the period 300-900AD.
  • Ethnic Arts Council of Los Angeles. Ancient Art of Veracruz. Los Angeles: Ethnic Arts Council of Los Angeles, 1971. Goldwater: T2 L88[T2 L88]
    • Exhibition catalogue features scholarly essays that attempt to classify the varieties of Veracruz ceramics by type, explain methods of production, and decipher symbolic meaning. Contains object photographs from the exhibition including an excellent collection of “smiling” figures.
  • Evans, Susan Toby. Ancient Mexico and Central America. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004. pp.289-290; 363-368. Goldwater: T3 E92
    • Concise entries in this introductory textbook provide general overviews of the art and archaeology, touching upon political and social context, of the gulf lowland region where the Remojadas figure was excavated.

Medellín Zenil, Alfonso. Cerámicas del totonacapan. Xalapa, Mexico: Universidad Veracruzana, 1960. pp. 66-102. Goldwater: T4C A11M49

In Spanish. An archaeological overview of the ceramics of the “Totonac” cultures of Veracruz from the pre- to post-classic periods. The author, a prolific archaeologist active in the mid-20th century, describes numerous categories of ceramics in each time period, including figurines in particular. Includes detailed discussion of the “smiling” figurines with interpretations.

Medellín Zenil, Alfonso and Frederick A. Peterson. “A Smiling Head Complex from Central Veracruz, Mexico.” American Antiquity, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Oct., 1954), pp. 162-169.

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/277569

Old article, but written by the site’s excavators. Includes descriptions of site and objects excavated, with conjectures on symbolic meaning and methods of production, and anecdotes of the excavation and dissemination of objects. Includes photographs of ceramic objects.

Miller, Mary Ellen. The Art of Mesoamerica from Olmec to Aztec. London: Thames and Hudson, 1986. pp. 98-100. Goldwater: T3A M64 c.2

Provides brief discussion of hollow ceramic figures produced in Veracruz in the classical period contemporary to the Remojadas “Smiling Figure.” Useful for its generalized explanation of regional/temporal trends in art and architecture.

Ochoa Salas, Lorenzo and Olaf Jaime Riverón. “The Cultural Mosaic of the Gulf Coast during the Pre-Hispanic Period.” In Alan R. Sandstrom and E. Hugo García Valencia, Eds. Native Peoples of the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2005. P.22-44.

Chapter presents a panorama of the cultural developments of Veracruz from first settlements through the postclassic period, incluiding a useful map of archaeological sites and geographic features of the region.

Paz, Octavio y Alfonso Medellín. Magia de la risa. 2nd Ed. Xalapa: Universidad Veracruzana, 1997. Goldwater: T4C A11P34 1997

In Spanish. 2nd edition of an early work on the “smiling figures. Text by luminary Mexican writer Octavio Paz and Remojadas site excavator Medellin, more of a musing on the artist qualities of the figures, but with good photographs of many objects.

Spratling, William. More Human than Divine; an Intimate and Lively Self-Portrait in Clay of a Smiling People from Ancient Vera Cruz. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1960. Goldwater: T4C A11S76

An early work on the recently excavated “smiling” figures. Article isn’t so informative, but includes good photographs of many objects.

Wilkerson, S. Jeffrey K. “Cultural Time and Space in Ancient Veracruz.” In Marilyn M. Goldstein, Curator. Ceremonial Sculpture of Ancient Veracruz. Brookville, NY: Long Island University, 1988. P. 7-17

An exhibition catalogue essay tracing the history of Veracruz’s ceramic traditions. The author provides a good introduction to the settlement history and development of cultures in the region, and outlines regional artistic trends, contextualizing the “smiling” figures, which he proposes represents ritual drunkenness. Exhibition catalogue includes images of relevant objects, especially p. 62-65, with useful descriptive text.

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