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Bead in the Form of an Animal Head

Mixtec, Postclassic, general
900-1520 CE
1.91 cm x 1.27 cm x 2.86 cm (3/4 in. x 1/2 in. x 1 1/8 in.)

On view


This simple, charmingly rendered animal head was cast as one piece. It has a perforation, indicating that it may have functioned as a bead or a pendant. The animal appears to be a canid, judging from the shape of the head, the snout, the fangs, and the ears. Both coyotes and dogs were well known to the Aztecs and were commonly depicted in art.
The dog was held in special regard by the Aztecs, because it was a major source of protein in a culture with few domesticated animals. Dog breeders and sellers were thought to have lucrative jobs, and even birth under the day sign of the dog was considered lucky.

The coyote had a dual identity in the Aztec mind, one with rather more sinister impli¬cations. It was respected for being cunning, astute; in hunting it is quite as astute as a man. But it is in every way diabolic, exacting revenge for being thwarted in its pursuits, but also fair-minded, and could be grateful and appreciative by repaying an act of kindness with its own sort of generosity. It seems fitting that the greatest of all Aztec kings was named Fasting Coyote (Nezahualcoyotl in Nahuatl; ruled Texcoco ca. ad 1433–72). As his name implies, this king was astute and cunning, and a survivor as a long-term ally of his cousins, the rulers of Tenochtitlan. This small ornament may represent a coyote, and would call to mind the great fifteenth-century ruler.

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. 28, cat. 138.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1947 Indigenous Art of the Americas: Collection of Robert Woods Bliss. National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., p. 16, 90, cat. 66.

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. 266, cat. 233, pl. CII.

Greenwood, Mrs. Hugh A. (ED.) 1941 Special Exhibit of Latin American Silver, October 14-November 15 1941. Pan American Union, Washington, D.C., p. 1, cat. 24.

Ries, Maurice Ruddell 1942 Ancient American Art, 500 B.C.-A.D. 1500; the Catalog of an Exhibit of the Art of the Pre-European Americas, April-June 1942, Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara. cat. 99.

Sotheby 1937 Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Indian and South American Antiquities, Native Art. Sotheby, London. cat. 167, pl. III.

Exhibition History
"Special Exhibit of Latin American Silver", Pan America Union, Washington DC, October - November 1941 (catalogue # 24).

"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 # 201).

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

Acquisition History
Formerly in the Mrs. Jean Holland Collection.

Purchased from Sotheby's, London (auction house), by Robert Woods Bliss, June 9 1937.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1937-1962.

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

Animals | Bead | Mixtecs | Pendant