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100 Highlights
of the MFAH
Take a tour through some of the most significant objects in the MFAH collections. On these pages, you can browse 100 highlights from collections throughout the institution. Then visit the Museum in person to discover your own favorites.
 
 
 
CLASSIC VERACRUZ
Mexico
Ballplayer
600–900
Ceramic

21 1/4 x 21 1/2 x 20 inches

 
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum purchase with funds provided
by the Alice Pratt Brown Museum Fund

Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, & the Americas

Arts of Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean
 
ABOUT

A ballgame similar to soccer was important in Pre-Columbian cultures of ancient Mexico and neighboring areas. Large playing fields have been discovered in ceremonial centers. The winner was predetermined: Rulers emerged victorious, and the captive enemies lost both the game and their lives as an offering to the gods.

Depictions of ballgames appear on painted ceramics and architectural stele, or carved monuments. Players and objects related to the ballgame were carved from stone and molded in clay. Life-size ceramic ballplayers like this one are extremely rare. He sits cross-legged with his hands resting on his knees, arms fully extended, and wearing what would have been a leather helmet secured by a band and strap. Heavy fringe to deflect bright sunlight extends over the helmet’s rim. His ears are pierced for ornaments, probably of perishable material. The ballplayer wears large, elaborate wrist bands, possibly for protection, and a protective yoke around his waist.

The entire figure is exceptional for its elegance with smooth skin, almond eyes, high cheekbones, and full mouth. The limbs are graceful with elongated fingers and toes and deeply incised nails. When painted, this ballplayer must have been astonishingly realistic. Traces of paint remain.