Figurine “Pretty Lady”

A beautiful example of a figurine of a naked upright woman, attired only with a headdress and two big circular ear plugs.

The head is excessively large. The widely stretched slit eyes are the prominent features in the face. The small mouth is formed into a calm assured smile. The chest is narrow with small breasts, and the arms are short, contrasting strongly with the enormously wide hips and thighs. The navel is also well defined.

The widened hips and the steatopygia that the figurine presents relate to the collective mentality of this society with a concentration on female sexual attributes and fertility. This type of figurine was therefore used as an amulet or within the ideological realm, the magic/religious frame, of rites of fertility. These pieces became known collectively as “Pretty Ladies”.

The technique used in their creation is known as “pastillaje”. Little pieces of clay are brought together and applied on a base of the same material to make the eyes, the mouth, and other elements of decoration such as the headdress. The interesting aspect of these figurines is that from the earliest times the nearby agrarian cultures noted the changes in nature and expressed them through the use of clay in an evident manner.

The development of this culture took place in the Basin of Mexico on the banks of Lake Texcoco from 1500 to 500 BC. The name given to denote the culture in náhuatl means “place where things are hidden” or “place of mounds”. This lake zone contained important resources for hunting and fishing. It was near wooded hills and fertile valleys with a rainy and humid climate.

Tlatilco art stands out for its terracotta human figurines. There are two different classes: one of big pieces, hollow and painted in red, and another of small ones which are solid and made with great delicacy and skill. The latter almost always represent young naked women wearing complex headdresses, short skirts or covered with body paint. There are also representations of people with two heads, hunchbacks and deformed or masked individuals. Different attires can be found, different occupations and offices, such as ball game players and contortionists. The ceramic vessels show worked decoration and a limited use of colour. The most common forms, which show clear outside influence, are bowls, vases with no neck, bottles with long necks, vases with three legs and bottles with stirrup handles. Moreover, there are vessels moulded in animal and vegetable forms copied from the surroundings, such as ducks, fish and pumpkins.


- Colección Barbier-Mueller, Geneva, Inv. n° 500-10.


- Sotheby’s. La Collección Barbier-Mueller, Art Précolombien. 5 Continents Editions. Milan. 2013. Vol. I. pp. 57. fig. 27.

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