Ceremonial mask

800–100 BCE
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General Description

The pre-Hispanic goldwork of Colombia is traditionally classified by archaeological zones, or regions, each with stylistic associations, varying in iconography and technology: Calima, Quimbaya, Tolima, and Nariño in the southwest; Zenú (Sinú) and Tairona in northwestern Colombia; and Muisca in the central highlands southeast of Bogotá. The Calima region encompasses the upper Calima River valley and surrounding areas of the Western Cordillera, extending east to the Cauca River. Calima goldwork, like other styles of southwestern Colombia, is characterized by the use of high-quality gold and a preference for working the metal directly by hammering. The richly varied Colombian goldwork were primarily objects of personal adornment.

Research in the Calima region has established several periods of occupation. Striking masks depicting human faces, of which some thirty examples are known, are now attributed to the Ilama period (1000 BCE-100 CE), the earliest in which gold was worked in this area. The masks share an oval or rounded shape with a clean outline, almond-shaped eyes, triangular nose, prominent mouth, and broad cheeks. Details distinguish one mask from another: the depth of the features, the size of the pupil-like holes in the eyes, the smooth or ragged edges of cut-out areas, and the shape of the mouth, which may form a rectangular grimace or a crescentic smile. Although many of the masks have been found in burials, they could also have been worn during life.

Adapted from

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., "Ceremonial mask (1976.W.321)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 33.

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., "Headdress ornament with heads flanked by crested crocodiles (1976.W.319)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 34.

  • Carol Robbins, "Ceremonial mask (1976.W.321)," in _Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, _ed. Suzanne Kotz (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1997), 178.

Fun Facts

  • This mask was featured in the World of Ancient Gold exhibit at the New York's World's Fair, Travel and Transportation Pavilion (April 22-October 18, 1964).

  • Nicknamed "Rocky" by museum staff, traces of red paint remain on the surface. It has been cleaned and ironed, and many scratches remain on the front.

  • The Funerary Mask at the Museo del Oro (#3950, hammered gold, Valle del Cavca, Restrepo) is close enough to the DMA's mask that it may be by the same maker.