Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Canine Ornament

7th–8th century
Guatemala or Mexico, Mesoamerica
Shell (Spondylus)
H. 3 3/4 x W. 2 3/8 x D. 1 in. (9.5 x 6 x 2.5 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 358
This orange shell pendant represents a dog. The dog seems to snarl as it raises its snout to expose sharp teeth. A depression indicates the eye, framed by the upper jaw and the heavy supraorbital brow. The artist painstakingly carved the outline of the canine and thinned one half of the bivalve Spondylus princeps, utilizing the curve of the shell to portray the dog’s tail as extended toward the viewer. The dog seems to be in motion, perhaps even depicted as on its back and flailing its four limbs in the air in a pose of submission.

Three drilled holes indicate that this shell dog may have been strung as a pendant or perhaps sewn into a garment. The dog, a common character in Maya art and texts across media, may have been a totemic symbol for a clan or the part of the name of its wearer.

James Doyle, 2016
[Robert Stolper Galleries, New York, until 1961]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1961, on loan to the Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1961–1978

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 224.

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