Masked Figure Pendant

Date: 10th–16th century

Geography: Colombia

Culture: Tairona

Medium: Gold

Dimensions: H. 5 1/4 x W. 5 3/4 in. (13.3 x 16.6 cm)

Classification: Metal-Ornaments

Credit Line: Jan Mitchell and Sons Collection, Gift of Jan Mitchell, 1991

Accession Number: 1991.419.31


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.