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Snail Shell Ornaments

Mixtec-Aztec, Late Postclassic
1200-1520 CE
7.94 cm x 3.18 cm x 2.22 cm (3 1/8 in. x 1 1/4 in. x 7/8 in.)

On view


This necklace was fashioned in the cast filigree technique associated with the Mixtec at the time of the Conquest. A characteristic of Mixtec jewelry is the attachment in rows of tiny elongated gold bells. They are seen on finger rings, earrings, pendants and necklaces, singly or in groups ranging from two to four. In necklaces, the "beads" usually represent hollow turtle shells or are disks with various kinds of decoration. Below each bead, there hang on cast wire-like loops three small free-swinging filigree plaques, to which bells are attached. Gold flashes in the sunlight and this quality was enhanced by dangling bells in Mexico while small dangling plaques served the same purpose from Costa Rica to Peru.

The Chiapas necklace at present is unique in that the 'beads' are imitation of snail shells, cast in molds and open at the back. The front side has been burnished but the back has been left rough. A possible technique of manufacture which explains their uniformity in size and shape is that a two-part clay mold was made from an actual shell, that wax replicas then turned out from the master mold and each encased in its own mold, onto which the molten metal was poured. Holes for stringing were cast in the upper rim of each shell. Evidently there was a trial and error to secure the desired angle of suspension as the number of holes varies from two to four in individual 'beads'. At the base of each shell are three small soldered loops. Small cast filigree straps or plaques, also with a loop at each end, are joined to the shell above and to bells below.

A typical feature of the Mixtec style is the extensive use of wire-like filigree built up by wax threads and cast as a unit. The small straps here, however, are simple metal plaques outlined by tiny threads of wax. Little beaded rosettes were placed at the top of each plaque. Under magnification traces of the channels through which the metal was poured can be detected beside the lower loops.

Akademie der Künste 1959 Kunst Aus Mexiko Un Mittelamerika. Ausstellung, Hochschule Für Bildende Künste, Berlin, Vom 3. Okt. Bis 22. Nov. 1959. Dahlem, Berlin. p. 90, 96, cat. 848.

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. 130.

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. 135.

Eggebrecht, Arne 1986 Glanz Und Untergang Des Alten Mexico: Die Azteken Und Ihre Vorläufer: Ausstellung. P. von Zabern, Mainz am Rhein. vol. II, cat. 262.

Haus der Kunst München 1958 Präkolumbische Kunst Aus Mexiko Und Mittelamerika. Ausstellungsleitung München e. V. Haus der Kunst, München. p. 35, 81, cat. 241.

Heinken, Siebo 2003 Azteken: Ein Herz Für Die Götter. In National Geographic Deutschland, pp. 32-44. vol. April 2003. National Geographic, Hamburg. p. 37.

Historisches Museum Frankfurt am Main 1960 Präkolumbische Kunst Aus Mexiko Und Mittelamerika. Austellung, Mai Bis September 1960, Historisches Museum, Frankfurt Am Main. Kuratorium Kulturelles Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main. cat. 130, pl. 10.

Hvidtfeldt, Arild 1987 Mexicos Kunst - Før Spanierne Kom. Louisiana Revy; 28. Årg. Nr.1. Louisiana Museum, Humlebæk, Denmark. p. 13, 82, cat. 277.

Kunsthaus Zürich 1959 Kunst Der Mexikaner, Ausstellung, 24. Januar Bis 15. März, 1959. Kunsthaus Zürich, Zürich. p. 65, 77, cat. 652, 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. p. 67, 81, cat. 764.

Matos Moctezuma, Eduardo and Felipe R. Solís Olguín 2002 Aztecs. Royal Academy of Arts, London. p. 248, 443, cat. 178.

Matos Moctezuma, Eduardo and Felipe R. Solís Olguín 2003 Azteken. DuMont Literatur und Kunst Verlag, Köln. p. 248, 443-444, cat. 178.

Nicholson, H. B. and Eloise Quiñones Keber 1983 Art of Aztec Mexico: Treasures of Tenochtitlan. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., p. 158, cat. 73.

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

Solís Olguín, Felipe R. and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 2004 The Aztec Empire: Catalogue of the Exhibition. Guggenheim Museum Publications, New York. p. 42, cat. 178,

Exhibition History
"Prakolumbische Kunst aus Mexico un Mittelamerika", Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany, October - December 1958 (p. 35, 81,catalogue #241).

"Kunst der Mexikaner", Kunsthaus, Zurich, Switzerland, 1/24/ - 3/15/1959 (catalogue # 687); Rautenstrauch Joest Museum/Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, Germany, 4/25 - 6/7/1959 (p. 65, 77, catalogue # 652).

"Kunst aus Mexico and Mittelamerika", Akademie der Kunste, Berlin, Germany, 10/5 - 11/22/1959 (p. 90, 96, catalogue # 848).

"Prakolumbische Kunst aus Mexico un Mittelamerika", Kunstlerhaus, Vienna, Austria, 12/22/1959 - 2/29/1960 (p. 67, 81, catalogue # 764).

"Prakolumbische Kunst aus Mexico un Mittelamerika", Historisches Museum, Frankfurt, Germany, May - September 1960 (p. 21, pl. 10, catalogue # 130).

"Arte Precolumbiana del Messico e dell' America Centrale", Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, Italy, November - December 1960 (p. 24, catalogue 135).

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

"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.

"The Aztec Empire", Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, 10/14/2004 - 2/13/2005; Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain 3/15 - 9/4/2005.

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.

Animals | Bead | Mixtecs | Necklaces | Snails