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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.

Tripod Vase with Bird Handles

5 3/4 x 13 x 9 3/4 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

This tripod cylinder vase is one of the largest and most elaborate made by the Ulúa peoples, who carved local marble into beautiful translucent vessels. Vases like this one were important luxury items treasured by the Maya and other cultures, and traded over long distances of Mesoamerica.

The handles of this vase represent birds--possibly parrots or macaws--with large curved beaks. Frontal feline deity heads featuring sharp fangs and round ears framed by profile serpent heads decorate the sides. These motifs are embedded in rows and columns of scrolls that probably signify the watery underworld.  

The Ulúa peoples lived in the Ulúa River valley, located in present-day Honduras, from 700 to 1000. They never developed metalworking. Using only stone tools, they skillfully carved large marble vases full of elegance and imagery. Though today these vessels are appreciated for the translucent quality of the marble, they may once have been covered with painted stucco.