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Gold Skull Necklace

Mixteca-Puebla, Postclassic, general
900-1520 CE
1.59 cm x 1.27 cm x 0.95 cm (5/8 in. x 1/2 in. x 3/8 in.)

On view


The 18 cast gold beads are similar in iconography to the shell skull necklace also in the collection (PC.B.083). Here, however, the treatment seems to be playful, as careful and skilled artisanry produced these heads with jaws that move up and down. They may represent the heads of spider monkeys, or human skulls. A detail such as moveable jaws suggests that his necklace was probably made for close-up observation and enjoyment in intimate social settings.

This detail also shows the great artisanship of Late Postclassic gold workers. Double rows of turquoise beads alternate with the cast gold skulls and echo the inlays of the eyes. Turquoise is mostly found in northwestern Mexico and the southwestern United States. It was brought to Central Mexico by long-distance trade. The use of turquoise, like gold working, is a Postclassic innovation, and among the Aztecs it was especially associated with rulers.

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. 108.

Izeki, Mutsumi 2008 Conceptualization of 'Xihuitl': History, Environment and Cultural Dynamics in Postclassic Mexica Cognition. Bar International Series; 1863. Archaeopress, Oxford. p. 146, cat. 2.1.58.

Nicholson, H. B. and Eloise Quiñones Keber 1983 Art of Aztec Mexico: Treasures of Tenochtitlan. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., p. 161, cat. 75.

Stuart, George E. 2001 Ancient Pioneers: The First Americans. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., p. 142.

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

Acquisition History
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, March 15 1962.

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

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

Bead | Mixtecs | Necklaces | Skulls