The exhibition Jaguar: Power in the Ancient Americasfeatures the remarkable diversity of jaguar representations in earthenware, stone, wood and the fiber arts throughout the ancient Americas and among modern indigenous peoples. From intricate masks to delicate ceramics, visitors will experience the extraordinary artistic variations unique to each culture and explore the layers of meaning behind these representations.
Regarded as the most powerful predatory animal in the ancient Americas, the jaguar’s strength and prowess prompted its use as an important symbol of royalty. From Mexico to Peru, the jaguar and puma symbolized the power of rulers. The jaguar was also associated with the underworld and its many deities, often adorning funerary objects such as burial urns that entombed the bones of honored ancestors.
These mighty felines also made reference to the belief in the spiritual transformative abilities of rulers and special religious practitioners who, in their animal spiritual forms, could harness sacred powers to affect worldly affairs. The jaguar was the prime companion spirit of the most powerful shamans, symbolizing the exceptional abilities of these potent practitioners.
Objects on view in the exhibition include ancient ritual drinking vessels, feasting ceramics, stone sculptures, textiles and modern performance masks, all decorated with the image of the mighty jaguar. Through these artworks we can glimpse the social, political and spiritual richness of the indigenous cultures of the ancient Americas.
The exhibition is on view at the Mint Museum of Art July 19 – December 14, 2008.