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Eagle Head

Aztec, Late Postclassic
1200-1520 CE
4.76 cm x 5.4 cm x 5.72 cm (1 7/8 in. x 2 1/8 in. x 2 1/4 in.)

On view


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Eagle head PC.B.061 is almost identical to PC.B.060 but with important differences. The manufacturing procedure must have been the same, yet PC.B.061 has a bore perforated in the disk-like core that traverses vertically from the inferior surface to the juncture between the two lateral perforations. In addition, the anterior surface of the core has two holes, slightly below the main lateral bores, perforated at an angle to connect with corresponding holes on the sides of the core. On the left side of the piece are traces of a shallow mark left by a thick hollow tubular drill bit slightly above and behind the main bore, probably an initial, failed attempt to perforate the core, abandoned because eventually the hole would have been too close to the posterior surface of the head. On the same side are traces of three marks left by a thin hollow tubular drill bit. Their linear arrangement along the groove delineating the boundary between the upper and lower beaks attests to a drilling technique that created deeper contours and enhanced differential volumes in the heads. Other conspicuous differences are the marks left by the drill bits used to make the holes for the eye inlays. The concentric circles at the bottom of these perforations indicate that the two-step process involved the use of hollow tubular drill bits of different diameters, the first hole done with a thicker bit.

The presence of a vertical bore in the lower half of the disk-like core supports the previous observation that the heads were not meant to be suspended. The configuration and location of perforations in PC.B.061 point, rather, to their having been affixed to a composite object. There was apparently no attempt to smooth the abandoned perforation on the left side of the core in PC.B.061, suggesting that this part of the head was not meant to be seen. Despite their slightly different dimensions, the eagle heads were probably intended to decorate a staff, baton, or ceremonial bar, with the two heads partially inserted at the ends of a wooden shaft. Main bores in the heads could have been aligned to holes on the ends the shaft and used to secure the three parts with string and possibly pegs. In PC.B.061, the two paired perforations that traverse at an angle the anterior and lateral surfaces of its core may have acted as reinforcement to affix the head to the shaft.

No actual counterpart for such a double-headed object is known, either in representations or in material culture. Yet the concept of double-headed eagles as alter egos to powerful individuals is seemingly portrayed several times in the Codex Nuttall. Imagery of double-headed eagles endures in native textile traditions, as in bags and huipiles (blouses) woven by Huichol and Mixtec women.

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. 29, cat. 147.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1947 Indigenous Art of the Americas: Collection of Robert Woods Bliss. National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., p. 13, 75, cat. 41.

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. 239, cat. 42, pl. XXX.

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. 247, cat. 42, pl. XXX.

Eggebrecht, Arne (ED.) 1986 Glanz Und Untergang Des Alten Mexico: Die Azteken Und Ihre Vorläufer. P. von Zabern, Mainz am Rhein. cat. 257, catalogue entry by Elizabeth Boone.

Hvidtfeldt, Arild 1987 Mexicos Kunst - Før Spanierne Kom. Louisiana Revy ; 28. Årg. Nr.1. Louisiana Museum, Humlebæk. p. 82, cat. 274.

Matos Moctezuma, Eduardo and Felipe R. Solís Olguín (EDS.) 2002 Aztecs. Royal Academy of Arts, London. p. 255, 447, cat. 192, catalogue entry by Loa Traxler.

Matos Moctezuma, Eduardo and Felipe R. Solís Olguín (EDS.) 2003 Azteken. DuMont Literatur und Kunst Verlag, Köln. p. 255, 448, cat. 192, catalogue entry by Loa Traxler.

Exhibition History
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, April 1947 to July 1949, November 1952 to July 1962.

"Die Azteken und ihre Vorlaufer: Glanz und Untergang des Alten Mexico", Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum, Hildesheim, Germany, 6/30 - 11/9/1986; Ausstellungsleitung Haus derKunst, Munich, Germany, 12/6/1986 - 3/6/1987; Ober'sterreichisches Landesmuseum, Linz, Austria 4/3 - 8/2/1987; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark, 8/15 - 11/30/1987; Musees Royaux d'Art et d'Historie, Brussels, Belgium, 12/1/1987 - 3/30/1988; National Archaeology Museum, Athens, Gerece, 5/16 - 7/21/1988; Société du Palais de la Civilisation, Montreal, Canada, 7/30 - 10/30/1988.

"Aztecs", Royal Academy of Arts, London, England, 9/12/2002 - 4/11/2003; Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, Germany, 5/11 - 8/3/2003; Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany, Bonn, Germany, 9/26/2003 - 1/11/2004.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1943.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1943-1962.

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

Aztecs | Birds | Eagles