Anthropo-zoomorphic deity with the head of a feline

An anthropomorphic representation of a standing person carved from a rectangular block of stone. Once the basic figure was carved, the spaces between the body and the arms were hollowed out, as well as that between the legs. Later the details, both those of the hands and the feet, were added in low relief.

The figure has a trapezoid shape with the maximum width at the shoulders and the minimum at the base. The arms and the legs point down to the base giving a sense of strength and solidity and an imposing physical presence to the figure. The three perforations emphasize the importance of all the limbs, which appear more solid than the trunk itself. The neck is wide and short. The nipples and the navel are carved as similar bumps, making it impossible to be sure of the sex of the individual. A schematically depicted loincloth covers the crotch. An exaggerated set of teeth fill the wide, open mouth. The ears are small; the eyes, large and wide, and the nose, prominent. Two parallel lines, which could be tattoos, run from the nostrils to the lower edge of the ears. The only detail carved on the back of the figure is the hair, where we can see long locks falling down a non-existent neck.

In comparison with sculptures of the same nature, the marks which appear to be tattoos and other features are associated with jaguars, reptiles or birds. Experts suppose that the figures represent deities or shamans.

The piece comes from the Diquis Delta in the southwest of Costa Rica. Few examples of stone-sculpted effigies with animal forms are known, but many anthropomorphic figures, above all, have been found. These generally go from twenty to sixty centimetres in length, with some being at least a metre in height. Experts do not know if the great variety seen in quality and size, and the differences in style, are related to the chronology of the objects or are indications of social and religious differentiation in the society. Most of them were made after the year 1000 AD. Any interpretation depends to a great degree on comparison with artistic forms from other regions.

The Diquis culture arose in the territory of what is now Costa Rica, along the coasts of the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea and in the inland mountains and valleys. This area is a resource-rich tropical forest, although the Pacific watershed has a dry summer season. The word diquis means Great Waters or Great River in the Boruca language, and the delta of the great Diquis River is a major feature of the region’s geography.

The Diquis culture is well known for its fine metalwork, particularly in gold and in the gold-copper alloy known as tumbaga. These metals were used to produce large quantities of finely worked pendants, bracelets, ornaments, earpieces, and adornments for clothing, many with images of jaguars and eagles. Other finds attribute to this culture include funeral masks and figurines, most representing birds. Apart from their work in gold, the Diquis are renowned for their stone sculptures, such as the large stone spheres found near cemeteries and the jaguar-shaped corn grinders, which display influences from groups that inhabited the territory of modern-day Colombia. Stone statues and effigies depict dead individuals and chiefs, carrying trophy heads or in positions of prayer. Others are male, female, or figures of indeterminate sex that are naked but marked with incisions that represent adornments such as necklaces and bracelets, body paint, and tattoos. The Diquis culture produced reddish-brown ceramic vessels that were decorated mainly by modelling and often included a tripod base. Decoration often takes the form of crocodiles or fishes. These ceramic pieces are often found alongside other vessels painted with red and black on a cream background and featuring simple geometric motifs, and other very thin-walled works modelled in animal shapes.


- The Vilcek Foundation, New York (USA). Number 2001.08.1
- Sotheby’s París. Collection Barbier-Mueller Art Precolombien. 22/23 March 2013. Lot 154.


- ALCINA FRANCH, José. L’art précolombien. 1996. n° 198, p. 327.
- Art de l’Amérique précolombienne. 1981. fig. 19, p. 34.
- Art millénaire des Amériques: de la découverte à l’admiration, 1492-1992. 1992. pl. 82, p. 279.
- Arts précolombiens de l’Amérique centrale dans les collections du musée Barbier-Mueller de Barcelone: Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. 2001.
- Ritual Arts of the New World: Pre-Columbian America. 2000. cat. 82, p. 317.

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