This plaque has a greenish glow resembling opaque glass but is made out of the semi-precious stone onyx. The head wears a narrow oblong headdress on the flat top of its head. Its indented eyes, with lids apparent, are positioned broadly on the face and are oval with pointed corners. It has oblong ears pierced at the lobe with two pairs of bi-conical drill holes, above and below each ear. The bridge of the nose extends from a narrow brow and finishes at a triangular base. Its lips protrude and are open; there are two circular indents inside the lips at the corners of the mouth. The back is slightly concave. There is a small amount of surface damage at the top of the head and some mild brown discolouring round the facial features.
Context:Face plaques made of semi-precious stones are among the most striking objects from the Teotihuacan culture (based on the city of that name). Several hundred examples are known, and they demonstrate a remarkable consistency of form; they are usually wider than they are tall, with the top finished by a straight horizontal cut across the forehead, and the eyes and mouth rendered on nearly parallel lines below this. The precise contexts in which these face plaques were used, however, is unclear. Although it has long been considered that they were used in burials, none have been found in such a context. It is unlikely that they were ever worn, as the eyes are not perforated and they are quite heavy (the backs are not hollowed to any great degree). The three that have been excavated under controlled conditions have been found in rooms and corridors in administrative and temple buildings along the Street of the Dead (Berrin and Pasztory, 1993: 184). Pasztory has suggested that they may have been attached to an armature of perishable materials, and when 'dressed' with costume elements may have resembled the large stone figures. The present example has pierced earlobes and two pairs of bi-conical drill holes (above and below each ear) which could have been used to suspend or strap the piece to such an armature. Numerous Teotihuacan-style objects were included as offerings in the Aztec Templo Mayor at Tenochtitlan (see UEA 623a), including several stone face plaques (Berrin and Pasztory, 1993: 277, no. 185; Matos Moctezuma and Lopez Lujan, 1993; Nagao, 1985, 52, 92, n. 33). The Aztecs held Teotihuacan in great esteem, and as recent arrivals to the Basin of Mexico, they may have had an interest in appropriating a grand past, a past that was not their own. Teotihuacan-style face plaques from Templo Mayor and Teotihuacan include shell and stone inlays for the eyes and teeth, lending a life-like quality to the sculptures. Drilled holes in the corners of the eyes and mouth may be a means so secure inlays for shell and stone. Traces of stucco also indicate that portions of the face may once have been painted (see also Berrin and Pasztory, 1993: nos. 35, 38). The back is slightly concave.
Relational references:Berrin K. and E. Pasztory (eds.), 1993, Teotihuacan: art from the City of the Gods. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco. Matos Moctezuma E. and L Lopez Lujan, 1993, Teotihuacan and its Mexica Legacy. In: Berrin and Pasztory, 1993, pp. 156-65 Nagao, D., 1985, Mexica Buried Offerings: a historical and contextual analysis. Oxford. (British Archaeological Reports, International Series, 235)
|Type of object:||Face plaque|
|Type category:||Costume and jewellery|
|Date range:||200-749 CE|
|Current accession number:||UEA 651|
|Former accession number:||-|
|Record date:||Thu, 1st Jan 1970|
|Copyright:||Copyright© by the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, UEA, Norwich, 2002. All Rights reserved|