Bird Ornament

1st–2nd century
H. 4 7/8 x W. 4 7/8 in. (12.4 x 12.4 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
Compared to the large quantities of spectacular metal objects found in lavish elite burials of Peru's Moche people, the tombs of the contemporary Nazca people of the south have yielded few gold objects. Usually of simple design and technique such as these sheet gold ornaments, perhaps made to embellish textiles, representations share similarities with the imagery painted on Nazca ceramics. Here the creature may depict a composite supernatural that has been called a "cat demon" or a "trophy head taster." The distinctive wavy lines on the tail feathers identify the body, wings, and tail as those of a falcon, while the head and rear paws are thought to be of a feline, perhaps the pampas cat often portrayed with a protruding tongue. Versions of this figure on Nazca ceramics commonly wear feline mouth masks with long whiskers ending in loops. The spirals flanking the tongue on the present ornaments may be a reference to the feline mouth mask.
[John Wise Ltd., New York, until 1957]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1957, on loan to the Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1957–1978

The American Federation of Arts. Primitive Art Masterworks: an exhibition jointly organized by the Museum of Primitive Art and the American Federation of Arts, New York. New York: The American Federation of Arts, 1974, no. 37.