Dumbarton Oaks is a historic estate in Washington, D.C. which has an unusual artifact among its impressive collection of Byzantine and pre-Columbian objects – a fertility idol known as the Birthing Figure. The idol is about 20 cm (8 inches) tall and carved out of scapolite. Some say it’s a representation of Tlazolteotl, an Aztec deity associated with purification, but the authenticity of the artifact is a source of controversy.
Originally, the sculpture was said to be of Aztec origin and made circa 900–1521. However, the first mention of the idol appears in 1899, when Ernest-Théodore Hamy reported seeing it in an antique store in Paris. It was purchased by a French collector and eventually ended up in the collection of Robert Woods Bliss, the founder of Dumbarton Oaks, in 1947.
For decades, people have debated whether it’s truly a remarkable piece of pre-Columbian art or a 19th century idealized representation of Aztec art. The main arguments against the piece’s authenticity claim that images of birthing women are uncommon in Aztec art and a disbelief that the idol could have been made without modern tools.
Credit: Johnbod/ CC BY-SA 4.0
What do you think?