Chimú goldwork builds on a long tradition in northern Peru, where gold was considered a sacred metal. An origin myth recorded in the 16th century described the emergence of Chimú society from three eggs made of gold, silver, and copper. Noblemen emerged from the golden egg, noblewomen from the silver egg, and commoners from the copper egg. Given its sacred status, the use of gold was controlled by the state and reserved largely for the gods and those considered to be descended from them.
The pectoral and ear ornaments shown here are among a group of objects said to have been recovered from a grave near Huarmey on the north coast of Peru. They were clearly made as a matching set, and probably worn as such by a Chimú nobleman. They are visually and structurally rather complex. The earrings are decorated with a low-relief geometric outline identical to that on the pectoral’s corner circles. They each have a small rod protruding from the center that is capped by a tiny bird, and further decorated with danglers. Six undulating serpents hang down, ending in human faces that carry a dangler in their mouth. The pectoral is decorated with an abstracted feline face with fangs, whose eyes are represented by protruding rods with small birds perched on the ends. Its nose is topped by a slightly larger bird. All three birds are embellished with danglers, as are the pectoral’s crest and four corner circles. The result is several dazzling pieces of jewelry that catch and reflect light in all directions, but whose extravagance obscures the multilayered imagery. Spectators who witnessed the Chimú nobleman in all his finery would likely not have been able to see the feline, the birds and the human-headed snakes among the shimmering danglers. Yet they would no doubt have been impressed by the lavish display of wealth and power, and following Andean belief, the mere representation of the animals may have been sufficient to impart their essence or their faculties to the jewelry itself, and by extension to its wearer.
Alcina Franch, José 1979 Die Kunst Des Alten Amerika. Grosse Epochen Der Weltkunst. Ars Antiqua. Herder, Freiburg. fig. 710.
Alcina Franch, José 1983 Pre-Columbian Art. Abrams, New York. fig. 710.
Bennett, Wendell Clark (ED.) 1955 32 Masterworks of Andean Art from the Exhibition Ancient Arts of the Andes. Museum of Modern Art, New York. fig. 22.
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. 66, cat. 370.
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. 274-275, cat. 312, pl. CXXIX, fig. 28.
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. 282-283, cat. 312, pl. CXXIX, fig. 28.
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. 226-231, pl. 55.
Emmerich, André 1965 Sweat of the Sun and Tears of the Moon: Gold and Silver in Pre-Columbian Art. University of Washington Press, Seattle. fig. 43.
Josephy, Alvin M., William Brandon and E. E. Cummings 1961 The American Heritage Book of Indians. American Heritage Pub. Co., New York. p. 70.
Lavalle, José Antonio de 1992 Oro Del Antiguo Perú. 1. ed. Colección Arte Y Tesoros Del Perú. Banco de Credito del Perú en la Cultura, Lima. p. 100-101, pl. 89.
Lothrop, Samuel K. 1954 A Peruvian Goldsmith's Grave. Archaeology 7 (1):31-36. p. 31-36.
O'Day, Karen M. 2000 The Goldwork of Chimor: The Technology and Iconography of Wealth Accumulation. In Precolumbian Gold: Technology, Style and Iconography, Colin McEwan, ed., pp. 62-75. British Museum Press, London. p. 66-67, fig. 3.6.
Piggott, Stuart and Grahame Clark 1961 The Dawn of Civilization; the First World Survey of Human Cultures in Early Times. McGraw-Hill, New York. p. 376.
Shady Solís, Ruth 1980 Peru During the Huari Empire. Américas 32 (2):26-31. p. 29.
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, November 1952 to January 1954, April 1954 to July 1962.
"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.
Purchased from Walram von Schoeler, New York (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, ca.1952.
Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1952-1962.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.