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Jaguar Effigy Incense Burner (work of art)

Artwork Info

Unknown Costa Rican Artist
circa 300-1000
11 3/8 x 7 1/2 in.
(28.9 x 19.1 cm)


The spiritual beliefs of ancient peoples of southern Central America are not completely understood, but it is clear from their art that certain animals were considered to possess great power. Like the eagle of the sky and the crocodile in water, the jaguar was the dominant creature of its habitat, the forest. Large jaguars can weigh 300 pounds; it is the largest cat species of the Western Hemisphere. Ancient Central Americans performed ritual ceremonies with effigies, ceramic images of the elite animals.

This jaguar was intended to be used as a burner of incense, an important practice in many ancient religions. Burning coals and incense made from fragrant tree sap were placed inside, and the smoke rose through the holes, ascending to the other world. Jaguar sculptures were often identified by the animals’ spots, here suggested by holes in the clay. Both the larger jaguar of the base and the small one on the top bare their teeth in a ferocious snarl. Although now very rare, jaguars are occasionally found in the Southwest of the United States.

tags: repetition, pattern, environment, function, ceremony


  • Costa Rican Artist Jaguar Effigy Incense Burner Ceramic 300-1000 B.C.E

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