Nose Ornament with Spiders


Not on view

Nose ornaments from the little-known Salinar culture, which flourished in the coastal river valleys of northern Peru from around 200 B.C.–300 A.D., are among the earliest body adornments discovered in the region. While some Salinar ornaments are simple in form and structure, others—such as the one shown here—are more complex in assembly and iconography. This ornament features four round-bodied spiders, their spindly legs and pincers carefully rendered in thin gold wire. Minute, circular wirework forms a delicate web spun skillfully around the spiders in a semicircular shape.

Spider imagery appears in Andean works of art from the middle of the first millennium B.C. until the Spanish Conquest in the sixteenth century. Spiders were particularly important within the cosmology of Peru’s North Coast for their ability to catch and kill live prey, a skill that linked them to warfare and ritual sacrifice. The Moche, who flourished in this region from 200–850 A.D. and who are thought to be the cultural successors to (if not the direct descendants of) the Salinar, may have even seen the spider’s practice of ensnaring its victim in a web and draining vital fluids as analogous to the way a warrior captured an enemy with ropes and extracted blood. In the North Coast, spiders were further understood to be harbingers of agricultural fertility, as they often appeared before rainfall, an important life-sustaining resource in the arid, desert-like environments of coastal Peru.

Nose ornaments, worn suspended from the nasal septum and often covering the mouth and lower face, were made for high-status individuals. These and other body adornments were likely used in the ancient Americas as material expressions of position and power. Frequently found on or near an interred individual as salient features of elite burials, such ornaments were also thought to identify the status of the interred in the afterlife, distinguishing the wearer even in death.

Technical Analysis
Deborah Schorsch, Objects Conservator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, notes that Salinar ornaments are frequently characterized by a generous and innovative use of wire, a predilection for soldered rather than mechanical joins, and a preference for minimally volumetric forms. Schorsch’s studies of this nose ornament have further revealed that the spiders’ reductive bodies were cut out from gold sheet that was slightly bowed to indicate the abdomen and cephalothorax (fused head and thorax). The eyes have been perforated from the underside and the burrs polished to create flattened rims. Two square-section wires were joined side by side with solder and to the underside of the spiders’ bodies to form eight legs; two additional square wires were soldered to the underside of each head to create the pincers. The curlicue webs were fashioned from multiple pairs of round wires that were hammered and/or abraded flat on the front and back, especially where they overlap, and then soldered together. Hammered sheets or strips and flattened round wires form additional elements.

Alva Meneses, Néstor Ignacio. 2008. “Spiders and Spider Decapitators in Moche Iconography: Identification from the Contexts of Sipán, Antecedents, and Symbolism.” In The Art and Archeology of the Moche: An Ancient Andean Society of the Peruvian North Coast, edited by Steve Bourget and Kimberly L. Jones, 247-261. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Alva, Walter, and Christopher B. Donnan. 1993. Royal Tombs of Sipán. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum of Cultural History, University of California.

Cordy-Collins, Alana. 1992. “Archaism or Continuing Tradition: The Decapitator Theme in Cupisnique and Moche Iconography.” Latin American Antiquity 3 (3): 206-20.

King, Heidi. 2002. “Gold in Ancient America.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 59, no. 4 (Spring): 5-55.

Pillsbury, Joanne, Timothy Potts, and Kim N. Richter, eds. 2017. Golden Kingdoms: Luxury Arts in the Ancient Americas. Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum and The Getty Research Institute. Cat. no. 19, p. 145.

Seo, Ji Mary. 2018. "How to Wear Body Ornaments from the Ancient Americas." In #MetKids Blog. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Nose Ornament with Spiders, Gold, Salinar

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