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Staff Finial in the Shape of a Bird

Inka, Late Horizon
1450-1540 CE
9 cm x 12.2 cm x 3.5 cm (3 9/16 in. x 4 13/16 in. x 1 3/8 in.)

On view


For millennia, staffs have served as important markers of status for people and gods in the Andes. This bird may have capped a staff or another ritual implement belonging to an important official in the Inka Empire. A similar bird made of silver, currently in the Hearst Museum of Anthropology, was found attached to the handle of a large wooden spade. It was probably used in agricultural ceremonies. Inka officials signaled the beginning of the growing season every year by enacting a ceremonial tilling and planting of the fields. Their agricultural tools were enlarged, decorated versions of utilitarian ones, and they were commonly adorned with birds, although in most cases these birds were carved out of the same wood as the handle. The bird represented on this piece is probably a cormorant, judging from the long curved neck and hooked beak. Cormorants are common along the Peruvian coast, and they are the principal producers of guano, which is highly prized as a fertilizer and was traded as a commodity in certain parts of the Inka Empire.

The finial is cast of a single piece of metal, with a hollow socket for attachment to a pole or handle. The alloy is tin bronze of a golden color, and the wings and upper tail area are decorated with very thin, flat inlays of silver and copper, which were hammered into shallow grooves in the bronze to create white and red stripes.

Bennett, Wendell C. 1954 Ancient Arts of the Andes. Museum of Modern Art, New York. p. 113, fig. 129.

Benson, Elizabeth P. 1963 Handbook of the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 74, cat. 421.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1947 Indigenous Art of the Americas: Collection of Robert Woods Bliss. National Gallery of Art; Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., p. 37, 63, cat. 200.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1957 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, New York. p. 278, cat. 339, pl. CXXXVI.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1959 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. 2nd ed. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, London. p. 286, cat. 339, pl. CXXXVI.

Boone, Elizabeth Hill (ED.) 1996 Andean Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks; No. 1. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C. vol. 1, p. 310-311, pl. 90.

Bühl, Gudrun (ED.) 2008 Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 256-7.

Emmerich, André 1965 Sweat of the Sun and Tears of the Moon: Gold and Silver in Pre-Columbian Art. University of Washington Press, Seattle. p. 51, fig. 59.

Greenwood, Hugh A. 1942 Exhibit of Latin American Silver at the Pan American Union. Bulletin of the Pan American Union. p. 20.

Greenwood, Mrs. Hugh A. (ED.) 1941 Special Exhibit of Latin American Silver, October 14-November 15 1941. Pan American Union, Washington, D.C., p. 1, cat. 15.

Kelemen, Pál 1943 Medieval American Art, a Survey in Two Volumes. 2 vols. Macmillan, New York. p. 252, pl. 206e.

Lothrop, Samuel K. 1937 Gold and Silver from Southern Peru and Bolivia. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 67. p. 322.

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology 1940 An Exhibition of Pre-Columbian Art. William Hayes Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., cat. 266

Exhibition History
"An Exhibition of Pre-Columbian Art", Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, MA, 1/15 - 3/2/1940 (catalogue # 266).

"Special Exhibit of Latin American Silver", Pan American Union, Washington DC, 10/14 - 11/15/1941 (catalogue # 15).

"Ancient American Art", Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA, April - June 1942; M. H. De Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA, July - August 1942; Portland Museum of Art, Portland, OR, September - October 1942 (catalogue # 4).

"Ancient Art of the Andes", Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, 1/26 - 3/21/1954; Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN, 4/21 - 6/13/1954; California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA, 7/23 - 9/19/1954.

"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, April 1947 to July 1949, April 1954 to July 1962.

"Machu Picchu: Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas", Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver, CO, 2/13 - 5/9/2004; Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston, TX, 6/18 - 8/29/2004; The Field Museum, Chicago, IL, 10/15/2004 - 2/13/2005, Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, OK, 3/1 - 7/10/2005; Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, CT, 9/10/2005 - 8/27/2006.

"Animal Bronzes: From the Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss", Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC, 2012.

Acquisition History
Formerly in the collection of Dr. Edward Gaffron, Berlin (collector).

Purchased from Dr. Gaffron, Berlin (collector), by Joseph Brummer, Paris (dealer),1912.

Purchased from Joseph Brummer, Paris (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, December 26, 1913.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1913-1962.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.

Birds | cormoran | Inca