Crown of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, known as the Crown of the Andes

Colombian; Popayán

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 626

Spaniards arriving in sixteenth-century South America encountered a rich and complex indigenous tradition of gold working that had developed over the course of millennia. Many, if not most, Precolumbian works in gold were melted down in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, their precious metal repurposed for new religious and secular leaders both in Spain and the Americas.

This crown was made to adorn a sacred image of the Virgin Mary venerated in the cathedral of Popayán (Colombia). A symbol of the Virgin’s divine queenship, the crown is encircled by golden vinework set with emerald clusters in the shape of flowers, a reference to her purity. The diadem is topped by imperial arches and a cross-bearing orb that symbolizes Christ’s dominion over the world.

Although the practice was controversial, it was common to bestow lavish gifts, including jewels and sumptuous garments, on sculptures of the Virgin Mary. To gain salvation, the faithful sought her intercession and worked to honor her and increase the splendor of her worship. At the same time, the crown represents one of the most distinctive artistic achievements of a region whose wealth derived from the mining of gold and emeralds.

Crown of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, known as the Crown of the Andes, Gold, repoussé and chased; emeralds, Colombian; Popayán

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