Reconsidering Olmec Visual Culture: The Unborn, Women, and Creation (William and Bettye Nowlin Series in Art, History, and Cultur)

Reconsidering Olmec Visual Culture: The Unborn, Women, and Creation (William and Bettye Nowlin Series in Art, History, and Cultur)

Language: English

Pages: 359

ISBN: 0292728522

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Recently, scholars of Olmec visual culture have identified symbols for umbilical cords, bundles, and cave-wombs, as well as a significant number of women portrayed on monuments and as figurines. In this groundbreaking study, Carolyn Tate demonstrates that these subjects were part of a major emphasis on gestational imagery in Formative Period Mesoamerica. In Reconsidering Olmec Visual Culture, she identifies the presence of women, human embryos, and fetuses in monuments and portable objects dating from 1400 to 400 BC and originating throughout much of Mesoamerica. This highly original study sheds new light on the prominent roles that women and gestational beings played in Early Formative societies, revealing female shamanic practices, the generative concepts that motivated caching and bundling, and the expression of feminine knowledge in the 260-day cycle and related divinatory and ritual activities.

Reconsidering Olmec Visual Culture is the first study that situates the unique hollow babies of Formative Mesoamerica within the context of prominent females and the prevalent imagery of gestation and birth. It is also the first major art historical study of La Venta and the first to identify Mesoamerica's earliest creation narrative. It provides a more nuanced understanding of how later societies, including Teotihuacan and West Mexico, as well as the Maya, either rejected certain Formative Period visual forms, rituals, social roles, and concepts or adopted and transformed them into the enduring themes of Mesoamerican symbol systems.

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California at Berkeley (Clewlow and Corson 1968) and recent archaeological work by Rebecca González Lauck (1988, 1989, 1991, 1997) of Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, since 1984, have brought the total number of monumental sculptures and fragments to nearly 100 (González Lauck 1988, 1989, 1991, 1997). González Lauck has also defined the extent and form of the site’s center through the production of a topographic map (1990). Her work has resulted in, among other

(1990:165) analyzed the collection, contexts, and testing of all the samples then available and determined that there were twentytwo acceptable radiocarbon assays ranging from 1354 to 424 bc (for Complex A), much longer than the 400-year apogee that was originally proposed (Drucker et al. 1959:264–267). Finally, various researchers have compared La Venta’s ceramics and geomorphology to develop5.4 (Opposite page) Plan of La Venta. Based on González Lauck 1990, 1991, 1997; with information from

By 1941, the year that The Wolf Man, starring Lon Cheney Jr., was released, Covarrubias had a circle of friends that included actors John Huston (who, like Covarrubias, was collecting Pre-Columbian art), Sam Jaffe, Orson Welles, and writers Bruno Traven (Treasure of the Sierra Madre) and Luis Buñuel (Williams 1994:139). These friends visited him at his home in Mexico and likely kept him in touch with such Hollywood novelties as Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) (Katz 1994:1388). In noting

spoon-shaped object shown in Figure 3.9. Anatole Pohorilenko (1996:129) suggested that Olmec jade “spoons” represent tadpoles. In the third week, human embryos are about 3.5 mm and have a tadpole-like form. I think Pohorilenko is correct, except that the tadpole spoons also refer to the embryo at that stage. Supporting this conjecture is the fact that several spoons are incised with embryo images. Another common decorative element on the spoons is an avian image. Follensbee (2008) Contexts for

at the rounded lower corners. Two large fangs, similar to upper canine teeth, emerged from otherwise toothless upper gums. Across the forehead was a headband that was not unlike the broad band around the Colossal Head. But this one terminated at the edge of the face, where on each side a protruding flange framed the face. In profile view, the upper back of the head was strangely elongated, with an extended upper parietal area. A deeply incised line defined the bottom of the head on all sides.

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