Figure Pendant

10th–16th century
H. 5 1/2 in. (14 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of H. L. Bache Foundation, 1969
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 357
Works in gold made by the Tairona people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in north Colombia emphasize volume and three-dimensional form. The figure shown here is part of a small group called caciques ("chieftains") because of their flamboyant, awe-inspiring appearance. Caciques range from about one to six inches in height and are among the most spectacular and detailed Precolumbian gold castings. They are hollow, having been cast by the lost-wax method in tumbaga to achieve remarkable detail. Loops in back indicate that they were worn as pendants.

There are two types of cacique: one is fully human (shown here); the other is similar but has the head of a bat or crocodile. Both wear enormous headdresses, sometimes as tall as the figures, with two large birds on the front and elaborate sidepieces. The human-headed pendant also has a visor or diadem, a kidney-shaped nose ornament, a labret in the lower lip, disk-headed rods and crescent-shaped dangles through the earlobes, a necklace, a belt, and armbands. The tiny ornaments display minute details and are comparable to full-size examples found in Tairona tombs. Whether a portrait of a ruler, a rendering of a supernatural ancestor, or a depiction of a shaman in the state of symbolic and spiritual transformation (assuming the features of a helping animal spirit), such a powerful image could only have been worn by individuals who were themselves powerful in Tairona society.
#1619. Figure Pendant
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[Edward H. Merrin, New York, until 1967]; H. L. Bache Foundation, New York, 1967–1969

Jones, Julie, and Susan Mullin Vogel. Notable Acquisitions (Metropolitan Museum of Art) (1965–75), pp. 171–83.

"Gold." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 31, no. 2 (Winter 1972–73), pp. 4–5, full figure illustration.

Jones, Julie, and Heidi King. "Gold of the Americas." The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art vol. 59, no. 4 (Spring 2002), p. 28.

Warwick, Bray. "Gold, stone and ideology: Symbols of power in the Tairona tradition of northern Colombia." In Gold and Power in Ancient Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia: A Symposium at Dumbarton Oaks, 9 and 10 October 1999, edited by Jeffrey Quilter, and John W. Hoopes. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2003, pp.301–37.