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Turtle Shell Ornaments

Mixtec-Aztec, Late Postclassic
1200-1520 CE
4.45 cm x 2.54 cm x 1.27 cm (1 3/4 in. x 1 in. x 1/2 in.)

Not on view


These 16 stylized turtle shells were probably sewn onto a cloth backing to be worn as a collar or necklace. The typical three-tier design mode of gold objects has been contracted in this example, with the second tier consisting only of volutes extending as a flange from the lower edge of the shells and terminating in loops for the suspension of teardrop-shaped tinklers.
The design field of the shells consists of ovals flanked by zigzags on the long sides of each shell. This form is highly conventionalized, only vaguely referencing the plates of a real turtle shell. The volutes that transform into rings for the suspension of the tinklers may be water motifs, apt for turtles and perhaps linking the idea of the sounds of water with the sounds of the tinklers.

BBC 2009 Montezuma, Documentary Associated with British Museum Exhibition. British Broadcasting Corporation, London.

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. 27, cat. 129.

Fields, Virginia M., John M. D. Pohl and Victoria Lyall 2012 Children of the Plumed Serpent: The Legacy of Quetzalcoatl in Ancient Mexico. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles. p. 207, 229, cat. 129.

McEwan, Colin and Leonardo López Luján 2009 Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler. British Museum Press, London. p. 95, cat. 24.

Nicholson, H. B. and Eloise Quiñones Keber 1983 Art of Aztec Mexico: Treasures of Tenochtitlan. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., p. 159, cat. 74.

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. 253, cat. 200.

Solís Olguín, Felipe R. and Martha Carmona Macías 1995 El Oro Precolombino De México: Colecciones Mixteca Y Azteca. Américo Arte Editores, México, D.F.

Exhibition History
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, July 1960 to April 1962.

"Art of Aztec Mexico: Treasures of Tenochtitlan", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 9/28/1983 - 4/1/1984.

"The Aztec World", Field Museum, Chicago IL, 10/26/2008 - 4/19/2009.

"Moctezuma, Aztec Ruler", The Britism Museum, London, 9/24/2009 - 1/24/2010.

"Children of the Plumed Serpent: The Legacy of Quetzalcoatl in Ancient Mexico", Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles CA, 4/1 - 7/1/2012; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas TX, 7/29 - 11/25/2012.

"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 - 5/28/2018.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1960.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1960-1962.

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

Animals | Aztecs | Mixtecs | Necklaces