- A.D. 1–1000
- Colombia, Caribbean Lowlands
- H. 7/8 x W. 4 7/8 in. (2.2 x 12.4 cm)
- Credit Line:
- The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
- Accession Number:
Goldwork from Colombia varies in style, technology, and imagery. Nose ornaments especially were made in many shapes and styles over millennia. Depictions of human figures in ceramic and metal show such nose ornaments being worn. Long, heavy ornaments with wide ends, such as these examples, are seen placed in the septum of the nose. The ornaments from the Zenú region in northwestern Colombia are often fabricated through delicate cast filigree of braided and spiral elements, as on the present example.
According to sixteenth-century records after the Spanish conquest, Zenú gold objects came from a region called Gran Zenú. Located in the tropical lowlands of the Caribbean coast, Gran Zenú was composed of three provinces—Zenufana, Finzenú, and Panzenú—and stretched east from the Sinú River to the Nechí and Magdalena river areas. Recent archival research relates the gold works from this region to the Zenú, a people living in this area at the time of the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century (Falchetti 1995, 2000; Serpa 2000). The descendants of the Zenú still live in this region in places like San Andrés de Sotavento and Tuchín.
In lost wax casting, all the details of the object to be cast are formed first in wax, or in a wax taken from a pre-existing mold. (For more details on this process, please see Metropolitan Museum of Art 2008.569.13a, b). On the present example, while forming the wax model for this object, Zenú metalworkers added the ornament’s central semicircular loop to the horizontal extensions before attaching the banded decoration to the extensions. The bands cover parts of the base of the loop, a feature that is especially visible on the obverse. The ornament’s extensions are hollow. Core material would have been located in the cavities on the reverse before the artists removed it after casting. On each side, there are two registers of four spirals, each formed by a coiled wax thread. The two registers together are bordered on top and bottom by a braided design. The orientation of the braiding in all four cases (the top and bottom borders on each side) is inward towards the central opening of the nose ornament. Interestingly, there is a horizontal band of metal between the bottom register of spirals and the braided design on the proper right. This band only continues for part of the width of the register and may have been added by the artists to fill an open space when completing the design. A notable feature of this ornament is that the interiors of the spiral designs are completely smooth, with no suggestion of a spiral visible on this side. After forming the designs in wax, the artists must have smoothed the reverse sides, removing any hints of the coils.
This ornament is part of the group of Zenú metalwork defined by Ana María Falchetti (1995, 72, 79, fig. 27a-b, table 3a) as "nose ornaments with horizontal extensions" ("narigueras con prolongaciones horizontales") and specifically to Type 3f, in which the extensions are made of cast filigree work but may have rounded or flattened ends. The examples that Falchetti (1995) identifies are made of "high tumbaga" ("tumbaga alta"), that is, an alloy of gold and copper, with high gold content. One has been excavated from the site of El Japón in the San Jorge River Basin, while two others she includes (potentially including the present example, which she illustrates) are without archaeological provenience.
Nose ornaments with horizontal extensions have been recovered from a range of sites in and around the Momposina Depression (Falchetti 1976, map 5), suggesting that people across a relatively wide geographic region displayed these ornaments on their bodies, at least in burial. Most of these objects were likely recovered from funerary contexts; such is the case of a nose ornament from Los Estados (Plazas et al. 1993, fig. 30, top) and others of a slightly different form from near Ayapel (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, PA SA2721). Artists depicted people wearing nose ornaments, analogous to those seen in metal, on ceramic figurines, such as a modeled and incised figurine from the aforementioned site of El Japón (Museo del Oro [Bogotá] CS4198)). Zenú settlements and the production of metalwork appears to have been concentrated in the Momposina Depression between A.D. 500 and A.D. 1000 but there is early Zenú metalwork between A.D. 1 and A.D. 500 in the area of the lower San Jorge River, along with the valleys of the lower Cauca and Sinú Rivers (Falchetti 2000, 136).
For further context on Zenú nose ornaments and the archaeology of the Zenú region, please see Metropolitan Museum of Art 1979.206.542 and 1979.206.545.
Bryan Cockrell, Curatorial Fellow, Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, 2017
 On certain Zenú ceramic figurines, people may be shown wearing similar nose ornaments through the septum of the nose. It is uncertain whether the ornaments that are shown reference metal versions or if the metal ornaments may have been worn in an alternative way, such as over the bridge of the nose, with the sides of the opening pinching the nostrils.
Falchetti, Ana María. El oro del Gran Zenú. Bogotá: Banco de la República, 1995, fig. 27a, ill. (incorrectly identified on p. 307 as Metropolitan Museum of Art 1979.206.542)
Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 247, bottom photo, bottom ill.
New York, Museum of Primitive Art, "Precolumbian Gold Sculpture," Oct. 29, 1958 - Feb. 8, 1959, cat. no. 36, checklist no. 50, ill
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum, "Gold Before Columbus," Mar. 19 - May 15, 1964, cat. no. 99
New York, Museum of Primitive Art, "Masterpieces from the Americas," May 20 - Nov. 11, 1964
New York, Museum of Primitive Art, "The World of Primitive Art," July 12 - Sept. 11, 1966
New Orleans, Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, "Art in Ancient and Modern Latin America," May 10 - June 16, 1968, cat. no. 194
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art," May 10–Aug. 17, 1969, extended to Sept. 1
Leningrad, Hermitage Museum, "Gold of Precolumbian America," Aug. 4 –Oct. 1, 1976; Moscow, The State Museum of Representational Arts, Oct. 15 - Dec. 15, 1976; The Kiev State Historical Museum, Jan. 5 - Mar. 1, 1977, cat. no. 102, ill.
Falchetti, Ana María. The Goldwork of the Sinu Region, Northern Colombia. MPhil diss., University of London, 1976.
———. El oro del Gran Zenú. Bogotá: Banco de la República, 1995.
———. "The Gold of Greater Zenú: Prehispanic Metallurgy in the Caribbean Lowlands of Colombia." In Precolumbian Gold: Technology, Style and Iconography, edited by Colin McEwan. London: British Museum Press, 2000.
Plazas, Clemencia, Ana María Falchetti, Juanita Sáenz Samper, and Sonia Archila. La sociedad hidráulica Zenú: Estudio arqueológico de 2.000 años de historia en las llanuras del Caribe colombiano. Bogotá: Banco de la República, 1993.
Serpa Espinosa, Roger. Los Zenúes: Córdoba indígena actual: La persistencia de la herencia étnica y cultural indígena Zenú en el Departamento de Córdoba. Montería: Gobernación de Córdoba, Secretaría de Cultura, 2000.