Pendant in form of a feline en-garde pose

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An animal-form pendant representing a jaguar. The facial features have been portrayed in relief in an idealized form. There is a ring just under the jaws of the animal so that the piece can be hung on a necklace or used as a protective element. The entire body, with the exception of the tail and the claws, has been decorated with spiralling circles, to give the impression of the spots on the animal skin.

In the pre-historic societies of Colombia the shaman or chief was associated with the jaguar, converting him into a jaguar-man. They were considered to be great felines. They wore masks, nose plugs and animal skins which gave them the appearance of these animals. They presided over ritual sacrifices, supplied the victims as well as the primary material that the goldsmiths and priests turned into thousands of votive pieces, which the people could then present as offerings. While “blood” was offered up to the sun, the goldsmiths were given “yellow earth”, the seeds of the sun, fertilizer of the soil, as gold was considered to be the materialization of the sun’s energy. This association between chiefs, gold and jaguars is a model applicable in other societies in Colombia.

The Zenú culture spread from the 8th Century BC down the basins of the Sinú, San Jorge, Cauca and Nechí Rivers. At its height, its territory was divided in three provinces with complementary economic functions: the production of comestible root vegetables, the production of a range of manufactured goods and the mining of native gold. The chiefs, members of the same family line, controlled the massive distribution of the products.

A large population grew up along the courses of the rivers, based in separate houses or in villages built on artificial platforms. Towards the year 1000 AD the population declined notably. Some groups that survived along the Sinú River until the Conquest were able to tell the Europeans about the peak of the Zenú society. Great wooden idols plated in gold leaf and other objects of the same metal were held in their great temples and sanctuaries. These awoke the greed of the conquistadors and gave rise to the bloody sacking of their settlements.

Apart from being great goldsmiths, the Zenú were also good potters as can be seen from the level of development of their pottery techniques. The most common representations in their jewellery are of amphibious creatures, birds, aquatic creatures and felines, all of which were also frequently seen in the decoration of recipients, rollers seals and pottery body art paint rollers.

The working of metals appeared in Colombian regions towards the 6th Century BC when societies which had artisans skilled in working metals lived on the Pacific coast. During the two thousand years of development of metal working in Colombia, interrupted by the Spanish conquest in 1500 AD, a dozen different styles emerged, combining different techniques on diverse alloys and producing great quantities of exceptional quality. These were notable for their equilibrium and composition which give the Pre-Hispanic working of metals in Colombia an outstanding place in world art. The main themes seen are the human figure, animals, geometric forms and a combination of all of these.

The technique of lost wax casting is a sculptural procedure using a mould made from a prototype of the piece to be worked, and this prototype is usually made from beeswax. This is covered with a thick layer of soft material, usually clay, which then solidifies. Once this has hardened it is put in a kiln where the wax inside melts and leaks out from expressly made holes in the clay. In its place molten metal is injected and this takes on the exact form of the mould. To remove the final piece the mould must be removed.

BIBLIGRAPHY:

- “Oro de Colombia. Chamanismo y orfebrería”. Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. Santiago de Chile. 2005. (pp. 82 – 83).
- PÉREZ DE BARRADAS, José. “Orfebrería Prehispánica de Colombia. Estilos Quimbaya y Otros”. Banco de la República – Museo del Oro de Colombia. Madrid. 1966. (Plate 159).

PARALLELS:

- Museo del Oro de Colombia.

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