During the first half of the first millennium A.D., Teotihuacan—the large cosmopolitan city in central Mexico—was the dominant political and economic force in Mesoamerica. Famous for its monumental ceremonial center with towering pyramids and palaces once decorated with stone sculpture and fresco painting, the city also produced portable artworks, such as ceramic vessels, by the thousands. The primary ceremonial vessel form at Teotihuacan—often placed in burials—was the cylindrical tripod. The outer walls of these three-footed vessels can be plain, covered with fresco painting, or incised in a technique known as plano-relief, as on this example. The main motif is a large feathered headdress with smaller symbols stacked in its center.
During their early years of collecting, Nelson Rockefeller and René d'Harnoncourt occasionally flew to the West Coast to visit art galleries. In Hollywood they would see Earl Stendahl of the Stendahl Art Galleries, who was then very active in the Precolumbian field and had been for several years. His gallery was well known and well stocked with objects, and the New Yorkers apparently enjoyed their time there. Newly purchased works followed them home. While in Los Angeles, the purchasers were particularly attentive to the ceramic sculpture of West Mexico—Colima, Nayarit, Jalisco—but they did not overlook this imposing Teotihuacan tripod vessel with its carefully worked low-relief surface.