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Sheet With Low-Relief Design

Moche, Early Intermediate Period
100-800 CE
8.6 cm x 11.9 cm (3 3/8 in. x 4 11/16 in.)

On view


This object of sheet gold depicts two supernatural figures standing on opposite sides of a vertical pole. Each figure grasps the pole with one hand and has the other hand raised behind him. The pole has a series of round objects attached to the upper part and a human head at the top. Both figures have fanged mouth, elaborated nose ornaments, and serpent headed belts. Their headdresses consist of the head, pelt, and tail of an animal, combined with feathered ornaments. The figure on the proper right has facial stripes and wears serpent-headed ear ornaments that identify him as Wrinkle Face. He has a conch-shell trumpet hanging from his arm. The other figure has a small dog by his legs. It is not known what the vertical post represent, although it seems plausible that they functioned as rattles. This is suggested by their occurrence in the procession of musicians and warriors present in a fine-line painted ceramic from the same culture. The heads at the top of the pole may be ceramic or metal finials. The Moche sometimes decapitated conquered enemies, however, and thus it is possible that the heads on these poles are human.

The function of the gold sheet is difficult to access. It is clear, however, that its original form has been significantly modified. Originally it must have been a trapezoidal-shaped sheet of gold with the two figures, the vertical pole, and the dog created in low relief. The proper left edge was then cut with a chisel-like instrument to create three tabs, two of which are still present. These cuts left an edge that is very distinct from the original edges that can be seen on the top, bottom, and right side of the object.

The object has a row of slits along the bottom edge, this were frequently used by Moche metalsmiths as a means of joining pieces of sheet metal to one another, is possible that this piece was made to be attached to other metal sheet. The discovery of a gold rattle with boxlike chambers, founded at the famous site of Sipan, made with more than one sheet of gold similar in shape and decoration to this piece, may suggest it function during Moche times.

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. 64, cat. 357.

Benson, Elizabeth P. 1972 The Mochica: A Culture of Peru. Art and Civilization of Indian America. Praeger, New York. fig. 2.19.

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. 273, cat. 303, pl. CXXII.

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. 281, cat. 303, pl. CXXII.

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. 149-153, pl. 32.

Bray, Warwick 1990 Le Travail Du Métal Dans Le Pérou Préhispanique. In Inca-Perú: 3000 Ans D'histoire: Musées Royaux D'art Et D'histoire, Bruxelles, 21.9-30.12.1990, Sergio Purin, ed., pp. 292-313. Imschoot, Gent, Belgium. p. 297, fig. 227.

Jones, Julie 1979 Mochica Works of Art in Metal. In Pre-Columbian Metallurgy of South America: A Conference at Dumbarton Oaks, October 18th and 19th, 1975, Elizabeth P. Benson, ed., pp. 53-101. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 63-64, fig. 10.

Exhibition History
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, November 1952 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.

Acquisition History
Acquired by Robert Woods Bliss before 1952.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1952-1962.

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

Anthropomorphic | Fangs | Felines | Moche | Serpents | Wrinkle-face