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Art History

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The coast of the Gulf of Mexico was inhabited between 250 and 500 C.E. Here, many different sculptures were created to represent different aspects of the people of that time. The Winged Bat Figure (fig. 1) is an example of this from a region of Mexico that is now known as Veracruz. The Winged Bat Figure shows how the people of Veracruz were a very mythologically-oriented society who created objects for situations that pertained to death and had funerary purposes.
This terracotta sculpture depicts a seated bat with its wings extended. It has oblong ears on its round face. The bat’s left ear is chipped while the right is very well intact. Its wide-set eyes are two dark, small circles. Beneath its left eye is a black diamond shaped marking. The center of its face is marked by a vertical indentation. The lips of this creature are large; so large that they protrude off its face. Its two front dull fangs are askew. The abdomen of the bat is shaped like the top half of a wine bottle and its neck is disproportional to the rest of its body; it is a fraction longer than it should be. Its tongue sticks out and ends at the part of its chest where the two decorative bands meet. Together, the bands form a shape that looks very similar to the bat’s tongue. Below these bands is a horizontal strap that separates this double band formation from the single band that covers the bat’s genital area. The bulbous decorative features on the top right and bottom left of each wing resemble blueberries. The wings are rhombus in form with a basic border and have shapes in the far top corners that look like keystones, or narrow trapezoids. Between the wings and the bat’s shoulders are disks that are decorated with a single button shape in each of their centers. The Winged Bat Figure is standing but this position is supported by what looks like a tail but can possibly double as a whistle. The feet of the bat are dissimilar; the right one is wide and more distinct, while the left is plain. Not much paint was used to complete The Winged Bat Figure, which leaves it with an unfinished look. The colors that were used are: red for the tongue, black for the pupils, and white for the fangs.
Veracruz was originally named Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz (Rich Town of the True Cross) by Hernan Cortes (Veracruz). The Veracruz culture was highly influenced by the Teotihuacán tribe and was based primarily on agriculture and hunting (Mexico). This region made use of many objects in a multitude of ways; such as in rituals and ceremonies that called on better agriculture, successful hunting seasons and in situations that included funerals (Deities, Themes, and Concepts 132).
During the pre-Hispanic period, the region that now constitutes modern-day Veracruz was inhabited by four indigenous cultures. The Huastecos and Otomíes occupied the north, the Totonacas resided in the north-center, and the Olmecs, one of the oldest cultures in all the Americas, dominated the south between 1300 and 400 C.E. (Deities, Themes, and Concepts 133). At their peak, these four settlements were probably the most complex ceremonial sites found in Mesoamerica; however, by 400 C.E., the distinctive features of Olmec culture disappeared and the region was replaced by the emerging central Mexican and Mayan civilizations (Veracruz). In the first place, the entire region of central Puebla and Veracruz constituted the foundational geography for a developing nationalist historiography (Cartographic Mexico).
For these regions, bats were a prominent species that the people were often exposed to at night (Animal Fact Sheet: Mexican Free-Tailed Bat). Mexican free-tails are found in the western United States, south through Mexico, Central America and into northern South America (Animal Fact Sheet: Mexican Free-Tailed Bat). For these people, it was very easy to associate bats with darkness because of their physical qualities and their tendency to fly only at night (Deities, Themes, and Concepts 132). Through this time period, many varied stories were generated about bats and their precedence at funerals and the topic of death soon discovered (Deities, Themes, and Concepts 133). Bats in this society were often depicted with other dangerous nocturnal beasts, such as scorpions and owls and appeared frequently with funerary goods (Deities, Themes, and Concepts 132).
One example of The Winged Bat and its meaning through another object in this culture can possibly be found within an artifact discovered in Tenochtitlan. A life size ceramic bat-man (fig. 2) was unearthed here (Mexico). This god of death has a human body but his clawed feet and hands are those of a bat. His bulging, humanoid eyes menacingly from a bat-like head, reminding one of the Zapotec images. Huge fangs protrude from his gaping mouth, and his mouse ears are incongruously large. This is not a beast one would want to meet at night (Deities, Themes, and Concepts 133). Through this description, it is evident that the role of bats in this civilization was well established. The god of death and The Winged Bat both have similar physical characteristics. Both have large ears, and huge fangs and together they represent an aspect of death for the people that they served.
Another object relating to the bat and to death/funerary customs of Veracruz is The Howling Canine (fig. 3) from Remojadas, Mexico. The Howling Canine and the Winged Bat Figure are very similar in many different ways. Both objects come from the same region of the Gulf of Mexico. They also come from the same time period and share similar physical characteristics as well. In both cases, the object has a wide-open mouth and dull fangs. The objects are also both of animals considered “nocturnal beasts” in this society. They also share similar colors; black and white are the most used colors in both cases. The Howling Canine is an object of either a coyote or dog, which in this culture also represented death. It was in the Teotihuacan tribe where it was said that a coyote-man would lead a recently deceased person to the Underworld (The Olmec World Ritual and Rulership). Both objects have wide-open mouths with fangs and it can be concluded that these two objects were used in the face of death. The same was said about a god named Xolotl (fig. 4) in several surrounding cultures.
Perhaps Xolotl, the god of fire, lighting, sickness, and deformities, also contributes to the meaning of this object. He was the twin of Quetzacoatl, and was the dark personification of Venus, the evening star. He guarded the sun when it went through the underworld at night. He also assisted Quetzalcoatl in bringing humankind and fire from the underworld (Catographic Mexico). This god is very similar to all the objects so far mentioned. It has the qualities of a canine, and is a god of death like the bat-man.
The culture of Veracruz used objects such as the Winged Bat Figure for funerals and situations of death. Through the different comparisons between objects from similar times and places as the Winged Bat Figure, it can be concluded that the object was used in conditions of darkness and death. The people of this time most likely correlated darkness with the unknown and the unknown with death, which lead them to creating objects such as the Winged Bat Figure. fig. 1 “Winged Bat Figure,” Unknown Artist, 250-500 C.E.
Veracruz, Mexico; Photo Taken by Josue Jorge, Bellarmine Museum

fig. 2 “Bat-Man,” Unknown Artist, Unknown Date
Mesoamerica, “Batman is death-- Long live Batman”

fig. 3 “The Howling Canine,” Unknown Artist, 5th-6th century
Remojadas, Mexico, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1978.412.59 fig. 4 “Xolotl,” Aztec people, 1325-1521 C.E.
Aztec, Mexico; Xolotl, God of Sickness, Deformity, and Misfortune http://ferrebeekeeper.wordpress.com/2010/05/28/xolotl-god-of-sickness-deformity-and-misfortune/ Work Cited
Craib, Raymond B. Catrographic Mexico: A History of State Fixations and Fugitive Landscapes. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004 Print.
Hasso Von Winning. "Remojadas." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 19 Jul. 2013. <http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T071408>.
Kerr, Justin, and White Bruce M. The Olmec World Ritual and Rulership. Princeton University: 1995 Print.
Miller, Mary Ellen. The Art of Mesoamerica: From Olmec to Aztec. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996 Print.
Paul, Westheim. The Art of Ancient Mexico. Trans. Ursula Bernard. New York: Anchor Books Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1950. Print.
Peterson, Ferderick. Ancient Mexico. New York: Capricorn Books, 1959 Print.
Robert D. Drennan, et al. "Mesoamerica, Pre-Columbian." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 19 Jul. 2013. <http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T057023pg3>.
“Mexico.” 2013. The History Channel website. Jul 28 2013, 12:22 http://www.history.com/topics/mexico.…...

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