Formed from gray clay covered with a slip coating that fired white to buff in color, this beautifully proportioned, well-preserved bowl has thin walls incised with two identical heads in profile separated by identical arrangements of v-shaped motifs. The two faces are a version of the Olmec were-jaguar. Seen in a number of variations, the were-jaguar may refer to the mythological mating of a woman with a jaguar or to a totemic ancestor, or—by creating a visual and conceptual link with the jaguar, the most powerful creature in the Olmec physical world—it may simply be a convention indicating a powerful supernatural being.
Olmec style, Tlapacoya or Morelos, Mexico
Early Formative period, 1200–900 BC
Diam. 7 ¼ in. (18.4 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, 81.32.3