The Wrestler (sculpture)

"The Wrestler" is a basalt statuette, one of the most important sculptures of the Olmec culture. It has been praised not only for its realism and sense of energy, but also for its aesthetic qualities. [Castro-Leal.]

Also known as Antonio Plaza Monument 1 and El Luchador (Spanish, "the wrestler"), the convert|66|cm|adj=on high statuette was discovered in 1933 in Arroyo Sonso, near the Rio Uxpanapa not from its confluence with the Coatzacoalcos River, an area now known as Antonio Plaza, Veracruz. [Williams & Heizer, p. 23. The area is also known as Santa Maria Uxpanapa.]


The statuette shows a seated male figure. The legs are delicate and rather diminuitive, [Milbrath, p. 17.] with the right leg bent in front and the left folded backwards, almost underneath the body. The arms are upraised and, like the legs, bent and asymmetric. The hands are clenched. In a position unusual for Olmec art, the shoulders are not situated directly above the hips, but twisted slightly to the right, giving the sculpture a sense of movement accentuated by the well-defined muscles and the dynamic positioning of the arms.

The Wrestler wears only a lightly outlined breechcloth, leading to the supposition that the statuette was originally dressed in clothing that has long since perished. [Miller, p. 23.]

The head is bald but lacks the highly stylized cranial deformation found in many other Olmec works of art such as the wooden busts of El Manati. The mustache and goatee are rare in Olmec sculpture, usually appearing only on a few reliefs such as .

This fully three-dimensional sculpture was intended to be viewed from all sides: the rear view shows carefully sculpted shoulder blades and a slight bulge is visible above the belt at the hips. Mary Ellen Miller finds that "the long diagonal of line of the figure's back and shoulders is as beautiful and commanding as the frontal view". [Miller, p. 23.] The Wrestler is clearly more free-flowing than other three-dimensional Olmec sculptures (for example San Martin Pajapan Monument 1), which are frequently boxy and seemingly confined by the medium. [Miller, p. 23. See also Honour, p. 110, who says that "Other surviving Olmec sculptures are entirely different, rigidly frontal and rigourously asymmetrical".]

ubject and dating

Despite its name, it is unlikely that the figure represents a wrestler. It is thought that the mustache and goatee connect the subject to the "political-religious hierarchy", [Castro-Leal.] and it has been suggested, based on comparison with historical Native American rituals, that the Wrestler is really a shaman. [Craven.] Based on the individuality of the piece as well as the detail inherent in the face, it is thought that the sculpture is a portrait. [Miller, p. 23. Coe, p. 78.]

Being a work of stone without archaeological context, it has been difficult to date the Wrestler. Many researchers consider it an early work, dated as early as 1200 BCE. [Coe.] However, others consign it to a period closer to 400 BCE, the end of the Olmec culture, largely based on its dissimilarities to earlier formalistic Olmec sculptures. [Beatriz de la Fuente assigns a date of 500 - 400 BCE (Craven, p. 30). Maria Castro-Leal finds that the art reflects a transition to a post-Olmec style.]

Unusual, or a forgery?

The Wrestler falls outside the norms for much of Olmec art: [Except where noted, this section is based on Milbrath, p. 17.]

*The Wrestler has no overt iconography, in contrast for example to Las Limas Monument 1.
*Whereas seated Olmec figures almost invariably have a broad base, the Wrestler's base is narrow in proportion to its torso.
*The rotation of the upper body is unique in surviving Olmec sculptures, as is its "sensitive detail" such as the foot complete with arch and rounded toes.
*In their petrographic analysis of Olmec artifacts, Williams and Heizer found that the basalt "is distinctive and . . . no other monument seen by us in Veracruz or Tabasco is made of the same material." They speculate that "it may be an imported piece . . . and its non-local origin is also suggested by the remarkable realism which is displayed". [Williams & Heizer, p. 23.]

However, both Susan Milbrath and Michael Coe argue against the possibility of a forgery. Milbrath maintains that its 1933 discovery, well before archaeologists defined Olmec culture or excavated the Olmec sites of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan and La Venta, precludes falsification. [Milbrath, p. 17.] Coe simply states if Heizer felt that the sculpture was a fake based on the petrographic analysis, then "something must be wrong with the petrographic analysis!". [Coe, p. 78.]


Superlatives abound from archaeologists and art historians alike. Richard Diehl says it is the "most spectactular" Olmec three-dimensional sculpture while Hugh Honour finds it "the finest of all Olmec sculptures". [Diehl, p. 114. Honour, p. 110.] For Michael Coe, the Wrestler is "one of the supreme examples of Olmec art" with a "feeling for individual character and for human physique [which] could only come from long study of anatomy". [Coe (1989) p. 78.]

Archaeologist Mary Ellen Miller describes the sculpture as "among the most powerful three-dimensional portraits of the ancient New World". [Miller, p. 23.]

Art historian George Kubler finds that "the spiraling motion of the body, the multiplicity of profile, the coherent muscles, and the expressive restraint of the work set it apart as among the great works of sculpture of all ages". [Kubler, p. 133.]

ymbol of Mexico

Since 1964, the Wrestler has been part of the collection of the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City. In 1996, Mexico issued a 1 oz. silver coin bearing the image on the Wrestler on the obverse.



: aut|Castro-Leal, Maria (1996) " [Catalogue #] 11. Antonio Plaza Monument 1 - Seated Figure with Mustache and Beard", in "Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico", eds. E. P. Benson and B. de la Fuente, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., ISBN 0-89468-250-4, p. 172.: aut|Coe, Michael D. (1989) "The Olmec Heartland: Evolution of Ideology" in Robert J. Sharer and David Grove (eds), "Regional Perspectives on the Olmec", Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521363327.: aut|Craven, Roy C. (1995) "An Iconographic Note: "Wrestler" or "Shaman"?", "Mexicon", v. XVII, n. 2.: cite book |author=aut|Diehl, Richard |authorlink=Richard Diehl |year=2004 |title=The Olmecs: America's First Civilization |series=Ancient peoples and places series|publisher=Thames & Hudson |location=London |isbn=0-500-02119-8 |oclc=56746987 : aut|Honour, Hugh; John Fleming (2005) "A World History of Art", seventh edition, Laurence King Publishing, ISBN 978-1856694513. : aut|Kubler, George (1984) "The Art and Architecture of Ancient America: The Mexican, Maya and Andean Peoples", Pelican History of Art, Yale University Press, ISBN 0300053258.: cite book |author=aut|Milbrath, Susan |year=1979 |title=Study of Olmec Sculptural Chronology |series=Studies in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology nowrap|No. 23 |publisher=Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Trustees for Harvard University |location=Washington, D.C. |isbn=978-0-88402-093-6 |oclc=231896601 : cite book |author=aut|Miller, Mary Ellen |authorlink=Mary Miller |year=2001 |title=The Art of Mesoamerica |edition=3rd edition |series=World of Art series|location=London |publisher=Thames & Hudson |isbn=0-500-20345-8 |oclc=59530512 : cite journal|author=aut|Williams, Howel |coauthors=and aut|Robert F. Heizer |year=1965 |month=September |title=Sources of Rocks Used in Olmec Monuments |url= |format=PDF online facsimile |issue=Sources of Stones Used in Prehistoric Mesoamerican Sites |journal=Contributions of the University of California Archaeological Research Facility |location=Berkeley |publisher=University of California Department of Anthropology |volume=1 |pages=pp.1–44 |issn=0068-5933 |oclc=1087514

External links

* [ The backside of the Wrestler]

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