Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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House Model

Date:
100 B.C.–A.D. 200
Geography:
Mexico, Nayarit
Culture:
Nayarit
Medium:
Ceramic
Dimensions:
H. 12 × W. 10 × D. 6 3/4 in. (30.5 × 25.4 × 17.1 cm)
Classification:
Ceramics-Sculpture
Credit Line:
Gift of Joanne P. Pearson, in memory of Andrall E. Pearson, 2015
Accession Number:
2015.306
Not on view
This model of a two-story Nayarit house depicts a large and complex feasting scene. It shows twenty-six figures engaged in a feast, complete with miniature representations of food and drink, and three birds. The house has two intersecting peaked roofs sheltering both a portico and an enclosed room. Remnants of a diamond pattern painted in black and white on a red slip are visible on the tops of the roofs, representing thatched roofs that would have been plastered and painted. People and animals fill nearly every available space on both levels, including the steps that connect them.

On the upper level, sixteen figures include at least six females, as indicated by their skirts, each paired with a male; four of the pairs sit with their arms wrapped around each other. One couple, probably the central figures in the gathering, rest against the wall, his arm lying familiarly over her lap. Such matched or joined couples, which are common in larger, freestanding West Mexican ceramic sculptures, may represent ancestors or a primordial couple: the origins of humankind and society. The hosts of the feast in the models may have been seen as the continuation or embodiment of that precious lineage.

Two female figures sit outside, one at the top of the stairs and the other on an upper banquette; the latter was once paired with a figure that is now missing. The men and women gesture in animated conversation as they partake of the abundant offerings of food. One male holds a conch shell in his raised right hand. Two figures recline in a fetal position, one outside on the banquette and another inside the enclosed room. The slumped figures on the steps may simply have enjoyed too much of the feast.

A stairway connects the upper floor to the lower level. Five figures sit cross-legged with their hands to their mouths in the main room on the lower level; these figures may be female based on their appliqued hair or headgear. Three figures wearing turban-like headdresses and cloaks or robes are perched outside on the lower banquette. One figure reclines in the threshold of the empty chamber; another reclining figure is in the niche under the stair. Dogs and birds set down anywhere there is space.

The two figures in fetal positions in the niches below may represent the recently deceased (or long dead) who are being feted, in which case the model is funerary in nature. As the Nayarit buried their dead below their houses, the lower rooms of the model have thus been identified as tombs. Although figures shown slumped in a fetal position may well suggest internment practices in some cases, in other models the activities taking place on the lower level more likely mimic those of a living household rather than a place of burial.

In depicting both activities and locale, these feasting scenes hint at their social meaning. Following a rupture in the society, such as the death of the head of a community, large gatherings like those shown in the models would have been used to consolidate the community and the power of the new leader. Similar to the feasts themselves, the models clarify the connection between the sacred and the civic, the ritual and the quotidian, and in doing so underscore the domestic basis for all aspects of Nayarit society and belief.


James Doyle and Joanne Pillsbury, 2015
Unknown New England private collection, 1960s–1970s (?); Allan L. Long, New York, until 2000 (?); [Ancient Art of the New World, New York, until 2002]; Andrall E. and Joanne P. Pearson, North Palm Beach, FL, 2002–2015

Butterwick, Kristi. Heritage of Power: Ancient Sculpture From West Mexico: The Andrall E. Pearson Family Collection. New York, New Haven, London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004, no. 32, pp. 76–78.

Sarro, Patricia Joan, and James Doyle. "Monumental Imaginings in Mesoamerican Architectural Models." In Design for Eternity: Architectural Models from the Ancient Americas, edited by Joanne Pillsbury. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015, pp. 30–31, 38–39, figs. 27, 38, 39.



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