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Combined-Figure Pendant

Coclé, Period V
700-1000 CE
6.15 x 5.18 x 4.13 cm (2 7/16 x 2 1/16 x 1 5/8 in.)

On view


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This delicate pendant represents a composite monstrous figure. The head, shoulders, arms, and hands appear to be human. The body seems to be that of a snake, with a slight bulge to indicate it had recently fed. The pointed tail, however, turns out to be the crested head and beak of a bird. Small solid wings are shown, and the eyes are on stalks like those of a crab. Grasped in the hands of this strange apparition is a horizontal bar from which hang four dangles.

The construction of this specimen is scarcely less curious than its form. With the exception of small areas such as face, hands, wings, and head crests, the entire surface consists of wire-like scrolls. At first glance, these appear to be soldered. In fact, however, they were laboriously built of wax threads over an interior core of clay and charcoal and then were encased in an outer core with the proper vents. The whole piece, except the dangles, was cast in a single flow of metal. Afterwards, both molds were broken and removed. A slit had been left in the back through which fragment of the inner core could be extracted. This specimen evidently was a work of a master craftsman, well versed in the lore and symbolism of his people. Only through the highest skill could the dozens of wax threads have been laid to form a symmetrical whole. In placing them, not only did aesthetic form have to be kept in mind, but they had to be so ordered that molten metal would flow throughout the tiny channels.

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. 51, cat. 289.

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. 268, cat. 266, pl. CX.

Cooke, Richard 1997 The Native Peoples of Central America During Pre-Colombian and Colonial Times. In Central America: A Natural and Cultural History, Anthony G. Coates, ed., pp. 137-176. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Cooke, Richard 2003 Los Pueblos Indígenas De Centroamérica Durante Las Épocas Precolombinas. In Paseo Pantera: Una Historia De La Naturaleza Y Cultura De Centroamérica, Anthony G. Coates, ed., pp. 153-196. Smithsonian Books, Washington, D.C.

Lothrop, Samuel K. 1956 Jewelry from the Panama Canal Zone. Archaeology 9 (1):34-40.

Exhibition History
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, June 1953 to July 1962.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, April 29,1953.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1953-1962.

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

Anthropomorphic | Birds | Cocle | Pendant