Chimú goldwork builds on a long tradition in northern Peru, where gold was considered a sacred metal. An origin myth recorded in the sixteenth 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 their descendants.
The 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 probably worn together with a matching pectoral, also in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection. Each one is decorated with a low-relief geometric outline and a small rod protruding from the center that is capped by a tiny bird. Additional rods support small geometric dangles. Six undulating serpents hang down, ending in human faces that each carry a dangle in their mouth. The result is dazzling, as each piece catches and reflects light in a different way. The Chimú noble who wore these would have been quite a sight. Spectators who witnessed him or her in all this finery would likely not have been able to see the birds and the human-headed snakes among the shimmering dangles. 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.
Alva, Walter L. 1992 Orfebrería Del Formativo. In Oro Del Antiguo Perú, José Antonio de Lavalle, ed., pp. 17-118. 1. ed. Colección Arte Y Tesoros Del Perú. Banco de Credito del Perú en la Cultura, Lima. p. 103, pl. 90.
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. 23.
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. 369.
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. 275, cat. 313-314, pl. CXXX, fig. 29.
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. 283, cat. 313-314, pl. CXXX, fig. 29.
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. 231-235, pl. 56.
Bühl, Gudrun (ED.) 2008 Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 262-3.
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. 46.
Jaques, Susan 2012 A Love for the Beautiful: Discovering America's Hidden Art Museums. Discovering America's Hidden Art Museums. Globe Pequot Press, Guilford. p. 6.
Josephy, Alvin M., William Brandon and E. E. Cummings 1961 The American Heritage Book of Indians. American Heritage Pub. Co., New York. p. 70.
Lothrop, Samuel K. 1954 A Peruvian Goldsmith's Grave. Archaeology Spring 1954:31-36. 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.1953.
Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1953-1962.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.