Olmec Sculpture of the Supreme God: the Jaguar

SKU PF.3080

800 BC to 400 BC




Oaxaca, Mexico

Gallery Location



Of all the vestiges of Olmec civilization that have survived and are known to us, there is clearly one great divinity whose characteristic features are remarkably represented by Olmec sculptors and stone-carvers: the jaguar. This feline must have haunted the humid tropical forests of Olmec country in great numbers. The man of this period, possessed of only the feeblest of weapons, was in no position to defend himself against this powerful and cruel animal who might take him by surprise at any point along a jungle path or at the edge of a maize field. It is no wonder that the jaguar became the primordial supreme god of the Olmecs! Just as vegetation springs forth from the earth, so did the almighty jaguar leap forth from the thickets and fields; thus, the direct association of the jaguar with maize and vegetation began. Hence, this jaguar god is a god of vegetation, of maize, the symbol of life and the driving force behind the intense religion, which in turn was a reflection of the beliefs, the rites, and the ceremonies of the Olmecs. In their eyes, this was the one justification for the unbelievable human effort invested in the search for stones and their transportation, the preparation of sites, the sculptures and the carvings, and the practice of massive offerings. The idols of the Olmec Supreme God represent him as half-jaguar and half-human with parted downturned lips, broad nose, and beautifully formed eyes under “flame brows.” The flame brow is an insignia of the Fire God or the fire- serpent. The Olmecs imagined the fire-serpent as the Eye of the Sun. The Olmec God’s jaguar aspect as the sun and creator of life was represented abstractly by the serrated or flame eyebrow. The “eye” on his forehead represents the solar nature of the figure. The concept of the serpent as the eye of the sun had its Eurasian precedent in Egypt where the uraeus, or zet- serpent, was called the Eye of Horus. Horus was a Sun God and the zet-serpent was the planet Moon spirit and Sun-bearer. Here, we have the great opportunity to bear witness to the creators of a great civilization, rich in original inventions and magnificent sculpture, such as our eyes now behold, that left their mark on this entire part of the world for the next three thousand years. It is the Olmecs who began the worship of the feline and the glorious procession that brought one city of Mexican antiquity after another into existence down through the centuries. – (PF.3080a)

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