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It is a greenstone figure of a youth holding a limp were-jaguar baby. Found in the Mexican state of Veracruz in the Olmec heartland, the statue is famous for its incised representations of Olmec supernaturals and is considered by some a "Rosetta stone" of Olmec religion. The largest known greenstone sculpture, it is also known as the Las Limas figure and the Señor de las Limas.
The facial features are unmistakable: almond-shape eyes, fleshy cheeks and sensuous, full lips, often drawn downward as if in a pettish scowl. With their puffy and swollen eyes, these mostly male figures often look as if they had just been roused from a deep, dream-haunted sleep.
The meaning of the figures is a mystery, but their features recur everywhere in Olmec art, not only on figurines, but on the adult faces of the two monumental stone heads included in the show, and on the evocative seated figure in the justly famed sculpture known as ''The Lord of Las Limas,'' named after the site of its discovery.
At a glance, the image might be taken for a beseeching woman carrying a sleeping or dead child in her lap, and it was worshiped as a Madonna by the Christian Indians who found it. In fact, the larger figure is male, possibly a priest in the act of ritually offering up an infantile being with a human body and a jaguar's head.
This composite creature, referred to as a ''were-jaguar,'' bridged earthly and divine realms and carried immense supernatural power. Shamans sought to assume its form both through the ritual use of hallucinogenic drugs and through the practice of physically strenuous yogalike forms of meditation.