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Breastplate with Agnathic Feline Face

Chavín, Early Horizon
400 BCE - 200 BCE
12.3 cm x 2.5 cm (4 13/16 in. x 1 in.)
gold-silver-copper alloy

On view


In the ancient Americas, only items of personal adornment or ceremonial significance were made of metal. This small breastplate was clearly meant to impress. It was produced with a silver-gold alloy and decorated with a carefully structured and symbolically charged design. Two holes in the upper part enabled it to be suspended, probably on the chest of a person of importance. Its style suggests that it originated at or near Chavín de Huantar, a large ceremonial center in the northern Andean highlands. Perhaps the original owner she had achieved through a visit to the site.

The plate is decorated with a frontal feline face with an upturned mouth and fangs curving out to the sides. A pair of eyes stares out from under a furrowed brow, and the lower jaw is only suggested by the shape of the snakes that emerge below the mouth. This disembodied face is framed by a headdress of sorts, represented by petal-like appendages surrounding the composition. The outer perimeter of the plate is adorned with an angular braid motif. Overall, the design is reminiscent of one on a painted cotton textile recovered from the coastal site of Karwa. Both objects feature a disembodied feline face within a circular cartouche, outlined by a circular braid. Such design elements appear to be associated with an important sacred status. At Chavín de Huantar, they are associated with representations of eagles, caimans, mythical figures, priests, and the principal Chavín staffed deity.

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Exhibition History
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, May 1948 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.

"25 Centuries of Peruvian Art, 700 BC-1800 AD", Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Cambridge, MA; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, 10/4 - 11/12/1961 (catalogue # 7).

"Gods With Fangs", Museum of Primitive Art, New York, NY, 2/21 - 5/6/1962 (catalogue # 19).

"Chavìn: Peru's Mysterious Temple in the Andes", Museum Rietberg, Zurich, Switzerland, 11/23/12 – 3/10/13.

"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.

Acquisition History
Formerly in the collection of Juan Dalmau, Trujillo, Peru, before 1941.

Purchased from Juan Dalmau by Joseph Brummer (dealer).

Joseph Brummer Gallery, New York (dealer), until 1947.

Purchased from Ernest Brummer, New York (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, June 17, 1947.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1947-1962.

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

Chavin | Fangs | Felines | Serpents