Art/ Collection/ Art Object


13th–15th century
Puerto Rico, Caribbean
H. 5 1/2 x W. 4 x D. 2 1/8 in. (14 x 10.2 x 5.4 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
Not on view
The Taino people who inhabited the islands of Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica in Precolumbian times created works of art that are distinctly their own in form and style. Some of the forms are so unusual that it is hard to understand their function. This stone head carved on one side with a plain, rounded back has the deep eye sockets and broad open mouth characteristic of Taino faces on the front. The empty sockets probably once held inlays of gold and/or shell. The object may have been part of a group of objects the Taino called zemís which were central to their religion. Zemís or idols represent deities and ancestors worshipped by the Taino and were used in public rituals and ceremonies. The Spaniards who first came into contact with the Taino in the late 1490s report that the local people considered zemís not simply powerful objects, but spirit beings that behaved like the living: moving about, speaking, consuming food, and partaking of the drug cohoba.
[Ralph C. Altman, Los Angeles, until 1957]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1957, on loan to the Museum of Primitive Art, New York 1957–1978

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 539.

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