Pendant with two figures

700–1520 CE
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General Description

Among the societies of Central America, gold ornaments were important symbols of power and prestige that expressed authority and status in life and in death. Made to be suspended around the neck, the image on this gold pendant is flattened and bilaterally symmetrical for maximum decorative effect. Although not visible from the front, suspension loops are located on the reverse at the base of each neck—craftsmen thus cleverly adapted the natural forms of totemic creatures to the functional demands of this jewelry.

This pendant represents two composite figures with both human and animal-like features. Both figures wear banded headdresses with coiled banner projections, elaborate leg ornaments, and trapezoidal loincloths. The prominent ears, fanged mouth, and upturned curled nose are characteristic features of the bat and may represent a bat mask or the fusion of both human and animal traits. Each figure holds a large staffed banner or paddle that compliments the shape of the loincloth and headdress, and are flanked by spiraled flares, though only fully extant on the proper right, which may represent further costume ornamentation or possibly a reptile or crocodile.

Pendants featuring animal creatures are a common theme among the cultures of Intermediate Central America. Depicted in a variety of sizes and styles, they sometimes represent a fusion of various animal features and species. Though their exact meaning is unknown, pendants were likely worn on ceremonial occasions, and similar pendants were still being worn at the beginning of the 16th century conquest. In present-day Central America, bats are associated with agriculture, vegetation, and sacrifice. For many peoples of the ancient Americas, bats were likely considered mythic figures—certain qualities, such as night vision, would have been seen as important, even supernatural, qualities that the wearer would have hoped to inherit. Animal pendants may have thus offered protection to the wearer, and when doubly represented in gold, such as this example, they are even more powerful.

Drawn from

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., "Pendant with two frogs (1976.W.292), Pendant bell depicting a turtle (1976.W.301), Pendant depicting a batlike mask (1976.W.237)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 35.

  • Anne R. Bromberg, Dallas Museum of Art: Selected Works (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1983), 45.

  • Carol Robbins, Label text [1976.W.298; 1976.W.297; 1976.W.292], A. H. Meadows Galleries.

  • "Bat-Nosed Figure Pendant (1979.206.1155)." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (August 2009).