The pre-Hispanic goldwork of Colombia is traditionally classified by archaeological zones, or regions, each with stylistic associations, varying in iconography and technology: Zenú (Sinú) and Tairona in northwestern Colombia, Muisca in the central highlands southeast of Bogotá, and in the southwest, Quimbaya, Calima, Tolima, and Nariño. TThe richly varied works were primarily objects of personal adornment. Pendants, headdress elements, pectorals, bracelets, anklets, and nose and ear ornaments probably functioned as ceremonial regalia for elite men. Tairona goldworkers produced some of the most elaborate gold objects made in the Americas—featuring delicate spirals, intricate line-work, and braided elements in cast filigree, Tairona ornaments often emphasize volume and three-dimensional form, as seen in this example.
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 the bird head—craftsmen thus also cleverly adapted the natural forms of totemic creatures to the functional demands of the jewelry. This pendant depicts a frontal bird wearing an elaborate headdress of concentric spirals with dangles, and large wings extend from either side, while the crescent-shaped base forms the long outspread tail of the figure. Though it in unclear what type of bird is represented, it is likely a bird of prey, indicated by the sharply hooked beak.
Bird pendants, common among the cultures of Intermediate Central America, are found in a variety of sizes and styles and represent a number of different bird species. Both single and double bird pendants are common, 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. Bird imagery remained important to indigenous peoples of the region into the 20th century. For many peoples of the ancient Americas, birds were likely mythic figures, often considered intercessors between sky and land. Bird pendants may have offered protection to the wearer, and when represented in gold, such as this example, they are even more powerful. When worn together, as many of these personal gold ornaments undoubtedly were, they would have created a dazzling golden image.
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.
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.
"Nose Ornament (1979.206.545)." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1979.206.541,.545/. (August 2009).
"Eagle Pendant (1977.187.22)." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1977.187.22/. (August 2009).