Sculpted in the Pataky tradition, the pear-shaped body stands on three tripod legs, with a jaguar's head centered between the two arms resting on the bent knees of the two front legs. The elaborate decoration consists of black on buff motifs with red highlights, the negative space of the buff clay cleverly assisting with the designs. The rim is decorated with tiny jaguar heads reminiscent of rosettes, and the legs, arms and shoulder is likewise intricately decorated with geometric registers, including perhaps most notably a 'twisted strand' motif that is symbolic of "the transmutation from human shaman to animal counterpart" (Stone 133). The choice of dark pigment on a light background echoes the jaguar's natural coloring of black rosettes on shades of tan, and the effigy pose emphasizes the aggressiveness of the animal: the head positioned fairly far down the vessel, just as a jaguar hangs its head when stalking prey; the wide-open mouth displaying fangs; and the crouching limbs reminiscent of the cat's extraordinary lunge.
However, this vessel does not simply depict an effigy of the great jungle cat; rather, it portrays a deeper reference to a shaman who has the ability to transform into a jaguar. While the feet feature dark slashes that can be interpreted as claws, the arms and hands cannot be anything other than human; additionally, the bent knees are much more reminiscent of a man crouching than a jaguar. The ancient Americans believed a shaman could turn into a jaguar at will under the influence of hallucinatory drugs, and in this disguise, he would have great power for good or for evil. Even in death, some shamans were believed to have turned permanently into jaguars as they transcended into the spirit world. Jaguars were the ideal second self because of their aggressiveness and hierarchy on the food chain; that alone creates excellent symbolism. The jaguar is capable of killing many different types of prey, including deer, fish, crocodiles, snakes, and humans, and likewise, the shaman must battle other shamans, evil spirits, and attacking predators during his hallucinogenic visions.
Reference: Rebecca Stone, The Jaguar Within: Shamanic Trance in Ancient Central and South American Art, The University of Texas Press, 2012, p. 133; and Stone-Miller, Seeing with New Eyes, Emory University, 2002, pp. 108 - 110.
Condition: Intact and in very good condition overall.
Dimensions: Height: 10 inches (25.4 cm)
Provenance: Mirtha Virginia de Perea (1929 - 2019) private collection of Costa Rican art. Mrs. de Perea spent her entire 48-year career with the Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington, DC, achieving the rank of Cultural Minister-Counselor and Consul after having started as a secretary. She was a devoted patron of the arts, promoting numerous local artists and sponsoring many cultural events throughout her career. She also amassed an impressive collection of Latin American art. After retiring in 1999, she became a US citizen and continued her support of the arts through her membership in the Women’s Committee of the Washington National Opera and other local groups.
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