As exemplified in the small clay sculpture of Mexico, probably no other people of ancient tines left such a tangible record of their daily life, both secular and religious. Ceramic art was highly developed as early as 1500 B.C., in the Valley of Mexico, and the tradition was widespread throughout the country until the Spanish Conquest in 1521.
With the exception of mold-made pieces produced from late Maya through Aztec times, miniature sculpture was freely modeled. Pre-Classic figures, or those dating before or around the first century of the Christian era, relied heavily on a technique of rolling pellets of clay and appliqueing them on the main body as facial features and adornments. It is interesting to note the finesse with which elaborate coiffures and jewelery were executed, and the apparent regard in which high fashion was held. Though probably significant as fertility figures, those from Tlatilco, Chupicuaro and Michoacan reflect a stylishly coiffed and ornamented, though otherwise, nude people.
After the first century A.D., a great variety of genre work, illustrating daily life, was produced in Western Mexico, particularly in the states of Colina, Nayarit and Jalisco. While applique was still used, forms were inclined to be more fully expanded, and there was increased use of color and burnishing.
Figurative work from the Vera Cruz area represents a number of periods,from the early, simplified Panuco figure through later, naturalistic ceremonial representations. It is generally true that the later works reflected a more sophisticated religious concept. This is apparent in the Aztec period where temples and important personages were frequently portrayed.
Apart from their story-telling significance, Pre-Columbian miniatures have an aesthetic appeal due, in large measure, to the reverent convictions of their makers. The figures transcend time and place to make a universally recognizable artistic statement.
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