Few ancient American gold objects are as well known today as the so-called eagle pendants. Bird pendants of the type illustrated here were first named aguilas (eagles) by Christopher Columbus, who observed them being worn by local people hung from their necks, as "an Agnus Dei or other relic," when he sailed along the Carribean coast of Central America in the early 1500s.
Bird imagery remained important to indigenous belief in the region into the twentieth century. Many varieties of birds abound in Central America, and there is much speculation about the species represented on the pendants, given the great variety in the shapes and sizes of the beaks. Some researchers believe that they are birds of prey because of the prominent beaks and claws and the various items often held in them. This example holds both a small fish and a double-headed snake in its beak.
[Judith Small, New York, until after 1960]; Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Q. Davis, New Orleans, LA, acquired before 1968, until 1974; (Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, October 11, 1974, no. 227); Alice K. Bache, New York, 1974–(d.) 1977
The Art of Ancient and Modern Latin America: Selections from Public and Private Collections in the United States. New Orleans: Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, 1968, 167, This reference refers the reader to Samuel K. Lothrop, Robert Woods Bliss Collection, Pre-Columbian Art, Phaidon, New York, 1957, color illus. XCVII, fig. XCVIII, for comparison purposes.
African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art. New York: Sotheby Parke Bernet, Oct. 11, 1974, no. 227.
Jones, Mark. The art of the medal. London, 1979, pp. 91–96.
Jones, Julie, and Heidi King. "Gold of the Americas." The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art vol. 59, no. 4 (Spring 2002), p. 7.