Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Owl Finial

5th–10th century
Zenu or Sinu
H. 4 3/4 x W. 2 5/8 x D. 1 3/4 in. (12.1 x 6.7 x 4.5 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 357
Gold objects from Precolumbian America are homogeneous in form—most are wearable ornaments, such as headdresses, pectorals, necklaces, ear and nose ornaments—but very diverse in style and iconography. Among unusual forms are the staff heads or finials from the Caribbean lowlands in northwestern Colombia. Thought to fit onto staffs of rank or office, they have a thimble-shaped cap topped with three-dimensional figures of birds, locally known animals, and humans. The small sculptures are often ornate and detailed, as is this perky owl sitting at the edge of the cap. Its broad head, turned at a right angle to its body, has beady eyes and a strong beak; it is framed by a braided element and topped by a ridged crest. The bird's bulging chest is composed of false filigree openwork, creating a pleasing contrast to the solid, brilliantly polished wings. The heavy, somewhat rough cast lends the bird spontaneity, which is underlined by the obvious flaw on the owl's right cheek. No effort was made to remove the excess gold blob.
[John Wise Ltd., New York, until 1959]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1959, on loan to the Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1959–1978

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 465.

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. top.

Newton, Douglas, Julie Jones, and Kate Ezra. The Pacific Islands, Africa, and the Americas/The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987.

Jones, Julie, and Heidi King. "Gold of the Americas." The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art vol. 59, no. 4 (Spring 2002), p. 34.

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