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Arts of Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean

Works of art from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean range from ancient cultures to cutting-edge artists of today. Among the highlights are the Glassell Collection of Pre-Columbian Gold and the museum’s growing collection of modern and contemporary art by Latin American and Latino artists.

 
 
 
OLMEC
Mexico
Hand-Shaped Pendant
1500–300 BC
Jade

8 1/8 x 2 5/8 x 1 1/8 inches

 
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Alfred C. Glassell, Jr.

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

Arts of Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean
 
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Blue-green translucent jade was the substance most precious to the ancient Olmec culture. They created adornment and other objects of this valuable stone to be buried with the most important deceased. This elegant, hand-shaped sculpture was drilled with holes to hang as a pendant.  

The hand was an important motif in many ancient Mesoamerican cultures. A symbol of scribes and rulership, it may also have signified the completion of life. Jade, the color of water and growing plants, was a symbol of agricultural fertility. The most prized substance in the Mesoamerican world, it was possessed only by esteemed individuals. Jade remains cool to the touch—a magical quality in the hot, humid tropics. The Olmec primarily favored a deep blue-green jade. Though jade was most important, other green stones, like the more opaque serpentine, were also held to be precious.