Jose Trinidad Bernabe López Vintage Mexican Petatillo Pottery Plates
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One of the most beautiful traditional styles of Mexican ceramics from Tonalá is petatillo, also known as barro petate, not usually seen in the public tourist markets. The time consuming technique of cross-hatched white lines that form the background design are all painstakingly painted by hand. It's named petatillo after the petate, a sleeping mat woven from palms or straw that the design resembles. Because this pottery is so labor-intensive and undertaken by so few artists, it is among the more expensive and is regarded as "luxury pottery." One of Tonalá's most renowned producers of finely painted petatillo is the workshop of the Bernabe family. This plate was made by family member Jose Trinidad Bernabe López, who signed his full name in white paint on the underside of the plate, along with "Tonalá Jalisco México."
This pair of 5 1/2 inch diameter plates are decorated with images of an eagle devouring a snake, taken from the Mexican national coat of arms. According to an Aztec legend, the leader of a tribe was visited in a dream by the god Huitzilopochtli, who foretold that the tribe would encounter an eagle devouring a snake and they were to settle at the place where they found this eagle. In 1325, the people settled in a swampland that became Tenochtitlan, which is now Mexico City.
The fine detail on these small plates is extraordinary. The rim of one of them is painted with four nahuales (shapeshifters) in the form of lion-like creatures, interspersed with geometric shapes and lots of cross-hatching. The rim of the other plate is decorated with eight geometric forms against the cross-hatching. The clay is terracotta and the predominant colors of the paint are black, green, brown and white, accented with black borders. They both have hanging holes pierced into the top of the foot rim--each weighs about 1 pound--and high gloss top glazes to protect the expert paintings, which also reflects the light to create the white spots in our photos. They're in excellent condition with no cracks or chips. One of the plates has a bit of white paint on the top edge (the one on the right in the first photo) but we mention this only for full disclosure--it does not detract. These plates are small works of art and display handsomely wherever they're placed.