100 AD to 500 AD
5.25″ (13.3cm) high
Western Costa Rica
In the context of Pre-Columbian art and archaeology, jade is a generic term that refers to any variety of hard, dense stones that were worked with great skill by native artists. Although jade is generally thought to be green, it can actually be a range of colors. Jade carving flourished in ancient Costa Rica for over a thousand years, roughly from 500 B.C. to 900 A.D., although the period of greatest artistic accomplishment lasted from 300 to 700 A.D. It is believed that jade working began during an extended period of agricultural abundance that allowed the ancient society to dedicate part of its energies toward the cultivation of artistic pursuits.
Jade was considered to be a sacred material by the ancient populations of Costa Rica, held in even higher esteem than gold. Generally, it was thought to symbolize that vital life force that sustains us all. The color green is naturally associated with verdant plant life. Specifically, jade was thought to symbolize the sprouting maize plant, that staple of the Pre-Columbian diet. It has also been suggested that jade represents water. Either way, we can be certain that jade represented the very essence of life itself.
To date, no native sources of jade have been discovered in Costa Rica, suggesting an extended trade network existed that imported this precious resource from Mesoamerica into Costa Rica where it was carved by local artists. Such trade also would have brought great wealth and likely reinforced the social stratification of the peoples. Jade may have served as a status marker to distinguish the elite from the masses and solidify their hold on power. We can picture an ancient ruler or shaman presiding over a sacred ceremonial adorned in brilliant green jade pendants and jewelry. The ancient Costa Ricans believe that the system of social hierarchy also extended into the afterlife. Therefore, jade objects were buried with the elite so that their power could be maintained throughout eternity.
This wonderful jade pendant has a very “kingly” appearance. The headdress he wears adds to this impression, with its vertical form, crenulated top and textured center band. Though highly stylized, it is very human in its presence and power. Two rows of perfectly square teeth grin with an intensity that matches the powerful gaze of the eyes. The hands lay neatly over the stomach, brilliantly effective with only three short rows of straight lines. This pose makes the figure seem as if he is standing in front of something awe inspiring, paying homage, but undaunted in his pride. This may well represent a proud chief of Costa Rica who would have worn this pendant as a symbol to all of his authority.Login to view price