Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Masked Figure Pendant

10th–16th century
H. 5 1/4 x W. 5 3/4 in. (13.3 x 16.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Jan Mitchell and Sons Collection, Gift of Jan Mitchell, 1991
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 357
The Tairona people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia produced some of the grandest and most complex gold objects ever made in the Americas. This pendant is an excellent example of the skill and virtuosity possessed by Tairona goldworkers. Of considerable volume, it depicts a broad-shouldered male figure standing in a confrontational hands-on-hips stance. His head is that of a crocodilian or bat. He is wearing an animal mask with a square toothy snout and diamond-shaped nose leaf. Covering the head is an enormous headdress that is as tall as the figure itself. It has two big-beaked birds on the front of its cap and elaborate sidepieces with detailed spiral and braided elements. The figure may portray a ruler, a supernatural ancestor, or a shaman in the state of symbolic and spiritual transformation, in which its features assume those of a helping animal spirit. A powerful image such as this one would have been worn by an individual who was himself powerful in Tairona society.

The pendant was cast of tumbaga by the lost-wax process. Its surface was subsequently enriched by the depletion method, also known as mise-en-couleur.
Collection Hoffmann, Geneva, Switzerland; Jan Mitchell, New York, acquired by 1969, until 1991

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Precolumbian Art In Mew York: Selections From Private Collections. New York: Museum of Primitive Art, September 12–November 9, 1969, no. 174.

Jones, Julie. The Art of Precolumbian Gold: The Jan Mitchell Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985, no. 44, pp. 170-171.

Jones, Julie, and Heidi King. "Gold of the Americas." The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art vol. 59, no. 4 (Spring 2002), p. 27.

Warwick, Bray. "Gold, stone and ideology: Symbols of power in the Tairona tradition of northern Colombia." In Gold and Power in Ancient Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia: A Symposium at Dumbarton Oaks, 9 and 10 October 1999, edited by Jeffrey Quilter, and John W. Hoopes. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2003, pp.301–337.

Related Objects

Figure Pendant

Date: 10th–16th century Medium: Gold Accession: 69.7.10 On view in:Gallery 357

Figure Pendant

Date: 10th–16th century Medium: Gold (cast alloy) Accession: 1979.206.946 On view in:Gallery 357

Bird Pendant

Date: 10th–16th century Medium: Gold alloy Accession: 1974.271.12 On view in:Gallery 357

Lime Container (Poporo)

Date: 1st–7th century Medium: Gold Accession: 1991.419.22 On view in:Gallery 357


Date: 10th–16th century Medium: Gold Accession: 2002.231 On view in:Gallery 357