Pedestal Plate with Praying Mantis Motif



Pedestal Plate with Praying Mantis Motif




800 - 1000 AD


Period VIB
Central America, Panama


4 3/4 x 8 3/4 in. (12.1 x 22.2 cm)

Object Number



Amidst the swirling forms of this tall Panamanian plate is the image of a praying mantis, the sticklike carnivorous insect known for its ferocity. In the upper center are two widely spaced oval eyes and bared teeth. The body below features two zigzag arms and a bulbous thorax that ends in concentric circles. The mantis' angular legs are implied among the snake-headed lines below, while spiraling lines emanating from the head creatively exaggerate the antennae. Thus, the artist mixed body arts and freeform designs in a typically Panamanian exuberance. Mantises are good at camouflaging themselves, looking like leaves or sticks and staying completely immobile 90% of the time. Therefore, the difficulty the viewer may have in finding and keeping the insect's image separate from the background mirrors actual animal behavior.

This mantis is shown in the aggressive position, ready to grab its prey with its upraised arms. Its prey consists of other insects, but also animals much larger than itself, such as mice and birds. Hence the pose suggests that the artist chose to communicate a message of aggressive power. In ancient times Panama was organized into chiefdoms, a type of social organization that favors competition between individuals and groups to gain and keep status. Therefore, a person might identify with the praying mantis, representing himself as a similarly formidable enemy. However, since female praying mantises decapitate and devour their mates, the type of power being expressed may be that of a woman (in neighboring Colombia at the time of Spanish Invasion, women were chiefs as well as men).

Credit Line

Gift of William C. and Carol W. Thibadeau


MCCM Permanent Collection Reinstallation, September 2002 - June 2012|
'For I am the Black Jaguar': Shamanic Visionary Experience in Ancient American Art, Michael C. Carlos Museum, September 5, 2012 - January 5, 2013|
MCCM Permanent Collection Reinstallation, February 9, 2013 - February 6, 2017|
MCCM Permanent Collection Gallery, February 13, 2017 - Present|
Michael C. Carlos Museum Handbook (Atlanta: Michael C. Carlos Museum, 1996), 83.|
Rebecca Stone-Miller, Seeing With New Eyes: Highlights of the Michael C. Carlos Museum Collection of Art of the Ancient Americas (Atlanta: Michael C. Carlos Museum, 2002), 167, figure 396.|
Michael C. Carlos Museum: Highlights of the Collections (Atlanta: Michael C. Carlos Museum, 2011), 76.


© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White, 2012.
This image is provided by the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University, who retains all rights in it. This image is made available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined by United States law. For all other uses, please contact the Michael C. Carlos Museum Office of Collections Services at +1(404) 727-4282 or Users must cite the author and source of the image as they would material from any printed work, but not in any way that implies endorsement of the user or the user's use of the image. Users may not remove any copyright, trademark, or other proprietary notices, including without limitation attribution information, credits, and copyright notices that have been placed on or near the image by the Museum. The Museum assumes no responsibility for royalties or fees claimed by the artist or third parties. The User agrees to indemnify and hold harmless Emory University, its Michael C. Carlos Museum, its agents, employees, faculty members, students and trustees from and against any and all claims, losses, actions, damages, expenses, and all other liabilities, including but not limited to attorney’s fees, directly or indirectly arising out of or resulting from its use of photographic images for which permission is granted hereunder.

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“Pedestal Plate with Praying Mantis Motif,” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed February 19, 2019,

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