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Mixtec, Postclassic, general
900-1520 CE
7.3 cm x 5.72 cm x 0.95 cm (2 7/8 in. x 2 1/4 in. x 3/8 in.)

On view


Tweezers from ancient Mesoamerica bear little resemblance to their modern counterparts: they are large and relatively flat, seeming to lack the focused functional capacity of the present-day implement. Examples of ancient tweezers varied in size, but they typically had a clamshell-like shape, bringing together two identical convex ovals, the hinge produced by folding the metal.
Unlike the elaborate gold objects made by the lost wax casting technique, tweezers were made by pouring the molten metal into shallow open molds, creating flat blanks—sheets of metal that were then cold-hammered into shape. This relatively simple metalworking technique was used in western Mexico in the initial period of production of metal objects.

Tweezers were among the objects worn by the elites of the Postclassic Tarascan Empire of western Mexico. They were worn pendant style, suspended from a necklace, and apparently insofar as they had a practical role, it was as a depilatory device. Yet they clearly also functioned as status markers, given their luxurious material.

The Dumbarton Oaks tweezers are elegant in their design. In size, they fall between the two examples from Monte Albán’s Tomb 7. They are also intermediate in shape, Monte Alban’s examples being circular and axe-shaped, whereas PC.B.106’s circle is slightly shouldered. This range in size and shape nicely frames the variety found in this curious but stylish type of ornament.

Akademie der Künste 1959 Kunst Aus Mexiko Und Mittelamerika. Hochschule Für Bildende Künste, Berlin, Vom 3. Okt. Bis 22. Nov. 1959. Akademie der Künste, Berlin-Dahlem. cat. 850, ill. op. p. 96.

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. 132.

Centro di azione latina 1960 Arte Precolombiana Del Messico E Dell'america Centrale: Palazzo Dell Esposizioni, Roma, Novembre-Dicembre 1960. Centro di Azione Latina, Roma. cat. 137.

Haus der Kunst München 1958 Präkolumbische Kunst Aus Mexiko Und Mittelamerika. Ausstellungsleitung München e. V. Haus der Kunst, München. cat. 243, ill. op. p. 80.

Historisches Museum Frankfurt am Main 1960 Präkolumbische Kunst Aus Mexiko Und Mittelamerika. Mai Bis September 1960, Historisches Museum, Frankfurt Am Main. Kuratorium Kulturelles Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main. cat. 132, pl. 10.

Kunsthaus Zürich 1959 Kunst Der Mexikaner. 24. Januar Bis 15. März, 1959. Kunsthaus Zürich, Zürich. cat. 654, pl. VII.

Künstlerhaus Wien and Österreichische Kulturvereinigung 1959 Präkolumbische Kunst Aus Mexiko Und Mittelamerika, Und Kunst Der Mexikaner Aus Späterer Zeit Im Wiener Künstlerhaus, Wien I., Karlsplatz 5, Vom 22. Dezember 1959 Bis 29. Februar 1960. Österreichische Kulturvereinigung, Wien. cat. 766, ill. op. p 80.

Quilter, Jeffrey 2011 The Shining Dawn of American Gold: Metallurgy in Ancient America. In To Capture the Sun: Gold of Ancient Panama, Richard G. Cooke, John W. Hoopes, Jeffrey Quilter and Nicholas J. Saunders, eds., pp. 45-77. Gilcrease Museum, Tuls. p. 63.

Exhibition History
"Prakolumbische Kunst aus Mexico un Mittelamerika", Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany, October - December 1958 (p. 80, catalogue #243).

"Kunst der Mexikaner", Kunsthaus, Zurich, Switzerland, 1/24 - 3/15/1959 (Plate VI, catalogue # 654).

"Kunst aus Mexico and Mittelamerika", Akademie der Kunste, Berlin, Germany, 10/5 - 11/22/1959 (ill, opp. p. 96, catalogue # 850).

"Prakolumbische Kunst aus Mexico un Mittelamerika", Kunstlerhaus, Vienna, Austria, 12/22/1959 - 2/29/1960 (ill. opp p. 80, catalogue # 766).

"Prakolumbische Kunst aus Mexico un Mittelamerika", Historisches Museum, Frankfurt, Germany, May - September 1960 (pl. 10, catalogue # 132).

"Arte Precolumbiana del Messico e dell' America Centrale", Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, Italy, November - December 1960 (catalogue # 137).

Acquisition History
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1958.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1958-1962.

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

Mixtecs | Pendant