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Celt Pendant

Olmec, Middle Preclassic
900 BCE - 300 BCE
16.51 cm x 6.35 cm x 0.64 cm (6 1/2 in. x 2 1/2 in. x 1/4 in.)

Not on view


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This jade pectoral expresses the close relationship between greenstone celts and maize in Olmec thought. The object is clearly celtiform, with a slightly narrowing poll and a sharpened bit edge at the opposite end. Nonetheless, because the object is strongly tabular, it is unlikely that it ever served as a true axe head. Two biconically drilled holes pierce the squared edge on one side of the piece, allowing the object to be worn horizontally as a pectoral. An Olmec design is boldly incised on one side. The motif is oriented toward the long vertical axis, and thus would appear on its side when the object was worn as a pendant. Rather than being lightly scratched on the surface, the decoration seems to have been cut with a back and forth sawlike motion. Areas of overcutting are readily visible in the lower U-like form of the motif. Similar incision is evident on the reverse side, although in this case, the carving seems to have been aborted. In addition, two other cut marks can be seen on the reverse side on the lower edge opposite the two drilled holes. It is probable that these two cut marks, near the poll and bit ends, are remnants of the preliminary blocking and cutting of the celt pendant. The surface design contains a prominent maize sign. The trefoil element near the bit end represents a maize ear partly projecting out of an enclosing husk.

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. 8, cat. 34.

Berrin, Kathleen and Virginia M. Fields (EDS.) 2010 Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Francisco, Los Angeles. p. 82, 184, pl. 91, fig. 47.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1947 Indigenous Art of the Americas: Collection of Robert Woods Bliss. National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., p. 14, 78, cat. 47.

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. 235, cat. 20, pl. X.

Coe, Michael D. 1962 An Olmec Design on an Early Peruvian Vessel. American Antiquity 27 (4):579-580.

Diehl, Richard A. 2010 The Olmec Legacy in Stone: A Mesoamerican Alpha and Omega. In Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico, Kathleen Berrin and Virginia M. Fields, eds., pp. 76-85. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Francisco, Los Angeles. p. 82, fig. 47.

Fields, Virginia 1991 The Iconographic Heritage of the Maya Jester God. In Sixth Palenque Round Table, 1986, pp. 167-174. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. fig. 3d.

Joralemon, David 1971 A Study of Olmec Iconography. Studies in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology, No. 7. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., fig. 173.

Taube, Karl A. 2004 Olmec Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks; No. 2. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 132-5, pl. 24.

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology 1940 An Exhibition of Pre-Columbian Art. January 15 through February 10, Arranged by the Peabody Museum and the William Hayes Fogg Art Museum. Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., cat. 122.

Exhibition History
"An Exhibition of Pre-Columbian Art", Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, MA, 1/15 - 3/2/1940 (catalogue # 122).

"Ancient American Art", Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA, April - June 1942; M. H. De Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA, July - August 1942; Portland Museum of Art, Portland, OR, September - October 1942 (catalogue # 59).

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

"Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico", Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA, 10/02/2010 - 01/09/2011; de Young, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, 02/19 - 05/08/2011.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Adelaide Frank by Joseph Brummer, New York (dealer), May 7, 1934.

Purchased from Joseph Brummer, New York (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, March 1,1935.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1935-1962.

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

Corn | Olmecs | Pectoral