Rosales Zoned Engraved Female Effigy

Central America, Costa Rica, Greater Nicoya, Rosales Zoned Engraved, Rosales Variety. Period IV, 500 BC- AD 300.
Ceramic. 12 x 9 x 6 in.
1991.4.344
Ex coll. William C. and Carol W. Thibadeau

The centerpiece of the Thibadeau Collection, this large hollow female effigy figure is the finest known example of the Rosales Zoned Engraved style from ancient Costa Rica. She is also among the earlier works of art in the collection as a whole, dating to between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200. Rosales represents a particularly elegant bichromatic ceramic style from northwestern Costa Rica, an area known as Guanacaste-Nicoya. This region spawned most of the impressive polychrome ceramic styles over time. Rosales is one of the most beautifully crafted of the Guanacaste-Nicoya styles, with its remarkably thin walls, glossy burnished surfaces, and carefully delineated black areas with incised outlines. Originally, this effigy would have appeared a considerably brighter red; black spotting represents the deposition of manganese oxide that often occurs during prolonged burial.

"Rosie," as she is affectionately known, constitutes a masterpiece of design as well as a technical feat. From the front view, bold facial features and dramatic shoulder lines strike the viewer, while from the back, flowing geometric patterns accentuating her anatomy captivate the eye. Side views reveal her as a waterfall of curves and her swelling belly becomes obvious. However, the most artful design choice appears in the treatment of her crossed legs. Rather than model the overlapping of upper and lower legs in three dimensions, the artist chose to render the lower legs two-dimensionally, painting them in black up the inside of the thighs. Her feet cross at the center of her femininity, simultaneously drawing attention to, yet concealing her sexuality.

Such a creative leg treatment demonstrates how the ancient Costa Rican artist, like those throughout the indigenous Americas, felt no compulsion to imitate natural forms as they appear to us in physical space. "Rosie" is the very essence of femaleness. As such, she would have been placed in the grave of an extremely important person, probably a chief, so as to grant him rebirth in the next world. Smaller, cruder female effigies were made in abundance for those lower in status; the collection holds a number of these as well. Their presence serves to reinforce just how exceptional "Rosie" remains among the many artistic achievements of Costa Rican antiquity.