Pendant with Fishing Birds
Chimú, Late Intermediate Period
9.3 cm x 10 cm x 3.5 cm (3 11/16 in. x 3 15/16 in. x 1 3/8 in.)
Spondylus shell with Spondylus shell and turquoise inlay
A pair of fishing birds eat their catch on the polished surface of this pendant. Scenes or patterns of marine life are the most frequently depicted in art of the Chimú culture, consistent with the Chimú’s great reverence for the sea. Chimú origin myths describe the arrival of their founding ancestor, Tacaynamu, from the sea. Several generations later, in the sixteenth century, traders in boats were the first to meet Spanish explorers out at sea. The traders carried Spondylus (or thorny oyster) shell as part of their cargo, harvested from the warm waters off the coast of Ecuador. This shell was used in agricultural and other rituals, and it was considered to be one of the favored foods of the gods. It was typically included in offering caches and burials and was used to decorate the walls of some temples. In fact, it was so highly valued that its trade was controlled by a high official in the Chimú hierarchy, known as the Fonga Sigde. The harvest is depicted elsewhere in Chimú art, where men standing on a large raft with a sunshade or rolled sail receive shells from divers tied to the raft with a safety rope.
This piece showcases the remarkable color and brilliance of the shell, as well as the exquisite craftsmanship of Chimú artisans. It is made of two different species of Spondylus and small pieces of turquoise. The shells’ spiny projections have been removed and the exterior is smooth and polished. The upper part of the pendant bears a mosaic inlay, but each bird-and-fish is a single piece, probably fashioned from the excised portions of the crimson shell. The thick part of the shell is drilled with two holes that allowed it to be strung securely, probably as a pendant around the owner’s neck.
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. 71, cat. 399.
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. 277, cat. 332, pl. CXXXIV.
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. 285, cat. 332, pl. CXXXIV.
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. 269-270, pl. 72.
Bühl, Gudrun (ED.) 2008 Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 258-9.
Marzio, Frances 2007 Miniature Size, Magical Quality: Nasca Art from the Glassell Collection. Museum of Fine Arts; Yale University Press, Houston and New Haven. p. 13.
Pillsbury, Joanne and Kim Richter (EDS.) 2017 Golden Kingdoms: Luxury Arts in the Ancient Americas. J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. p. 92, 161, fig. 101, cat. 53.
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
"Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas", The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles CA, 9/16/2017 - 1/28/2018; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York NY, 2/27/2018 - 5/28/2018.
Acquired by Robert Bliss, 1952.
Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1952-1962.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.