Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History



  • Feline figure, 1st century b.c.–4th century a.d.
    Ecuador; Tolita/Tumaco
    Ceramic; H. 5 1/2 in. (14 cm)
    Gift of Timothy, Peter, and Jonathan Zorach, 1991 (1991.436.8)

    Feline imagery is a recurrent theme in Precolumbian art. Large felines such as pumas and jaguars are kings of the animal world in the Andes. Fangs and claws, and their ability to move and strike with lightning speed, make them feared predators. In art, feline imagery was often used to evoke physical strength and supernatural power. This small ceramic sculpture conveys a sense of aggression and force that belies its small size. Seated, the cat shows its fleshy belly while snarling and providing full view of its powerful jaws and pointed fangs. The paws too are shown with claws extended, leaving little doubt that, in spite of its sitting position, this is not a tame, friendly cat. The pendant, somewhat phallic tongue is typical of Tolita feline depictions; it is thought to be associated with virility and masculine power. Although the animal is rendered quite realistically, at least one anthropomorphic aspect is present in its human ears. Red pigment remains on much of the surface.

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    On view: Gallery 357
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  • Feline figure, 1st century B.C.–4th century A.D.
    Ecuador; Tolita/Tumaco
    Ceramic; H. 5 1/2 in. (14 cm)
    Gift of Timothy, Peter, and Jonathan Zorach, 1991 (1991.436.8)

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