Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Anthropomorphic Animal Pendant

Date:
11th–16th century
Geography:
Costa Rica or Panama
Culture:
Chiriqui
Medium:
Gold alloy
Dimensions:
H. 2 1/2 x W. 2 1/2 x D. 1 in. (6.4 x 6.4 x 2.5 cm)
Classification:
Metal-Ornaments
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
1979.206.1162
Not on view
This pendant is an anthropomorphic jaguar with serpents sprouting from its heads and limbs, surrounded by a braided frame. Composite creatures consisting of human figures with pronounced animal features occur throughout Costa Rica, signaling that beliefs and their expressions were shared by many groups. Local styles developed distinctive characteristics, however. Metalwork from the Diquis Delta area in southwestern Costa Rica is ornate and replete with detail. Spirals and twisted and braided rope proliferate, and danglers, tinkling like bells and glittering in the sunlight, sometimes conceal the figures behind them.
Costa Rica is the most northerly of the Precolumbian goldworking areas, which run from southern Peru and Bolivia on the west side of South America, along the Andean Mountain chain to Ecuador and Colombia, and from there across onto the Isthmus of Panama. This generally continuous region, in which ancient American goldworking technologies developed, intermingled, and expanded, ends approximately in southern Costa Rica. Costa Rican metalwork is thus consistent with southern technologies and imagery, although it has its own distinct, and quite strong, visual character. Depictions of predatory animals are common; crocodiles, felines, bats, sharks, and spiders appear in various guises, many anthropomorphized, and many with bared teeth showing. It is believed that the ability of such creatures to cause harm also engendered their capacity of inspire religious awe and respect. The major mountain ranges account for the creation of three cultural zones in ancient Costa Rica, where diverse ethnic groups developed distinct artistic traditions. The south-eastern zone of Pacific Costa Rica, near the Panamanian border, was the most important region for goldworking. It has yielded more gold objects than any other Costa Rican area. Early European accounts report that the tropical rainforest region of the Diquis Delta, where rivers come from the Cordillera de Talamanca, was particularly rich in gold. Each community owned a stretch of river where people panned for gold.
Bernard J. Linden, Balboa, Panama Canal Zone, until 1966; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1966, on loan to the Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1966–1978

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