A new exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas, traces the culture of luxury in preColumbian societies such as the Incas, Mayans and Aztecs, from around 1000BC to the arrival of Europeans in the early 16th century.
In the ancient Americas, artists and their patrons selected materials that could provoke a strong response—perceptually, sensually, and conceptually— and transport the wearer and beholder beyond the realm of the mundane.
Gold, silver, and copper were used primarily to create regalia and ritual objects—metals were only secondarily used to create weapons and tools. First exploited in the Andes around 2000BC, gold was closely associated with the supernatural realm, and over the course of several thousand years the practice of making prestige objects in gold for rulers and deities gradually moved northward, into Central America and Mexico. But in many areas other materials were more highly valued. Jade, rather than gold, was most esteemed by the Olmecs and the Mayans, while the Incas and the Aztecs prized feathers and tapestry.
The Golden Kingdoms exhibition, on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art until May 28th 2018, presents new understandings of ancient American luxury arts through a thematic exploration of indigenous ideas of value and luxury.
Golden Kingdoms explores not only artistic practices but also the historical, cultural, social, and political conditions in which luxury arts were produced and circulated. The materials of ancient American luxury arts were closely associated with divine power: they were made of materials thought to have been emitted, inhabited, or consumed by gods.
Luxury arts were also relatively small in scale, which meant they could be transported over vast distances as royal gifts or sacred offerings, thus serving as a primary vehicle for the exchange of ideas across regions and through time. The exhibition presents a new portrait of the ancient Americas—one unconstrained by today’s national boundaries—revealing networks of artistic exchange in historical context.
Showcasing more than 300 objects drawn from more than 50 museums in 12 countries, the exhibition features spectacular works of art from recent archaeological excavations—crowns, pectorals, pendants, necklaces, ear and nose ornaments, rings, labrets, masks, mantles, goblets, vases, stelas, bells, mirrors, painted books, and more—that have rarely, if ever, left their country of origin.
Daniel H. Weiss, president and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum
of Art, stated: “It is a great privilege for The Met to present this stunning assemblage of highly prized works of art from more than 50 organisations. This exhibition is the result of an intensive five-year research effort that brought together scholars from across Latin America and the United States, and we’re thrilled to share their findings and these beautiful objects with our visitors.”
Exhibition highlights include the exquisite gold ornaments of the Lord of Sipán, the richest unlooted tomb in the ancient Americas; the malachite funerary mask of a woman known as the Red Queen, from the Maya site of Palenque; newly discovered ritual offerings from the sacred precinct of the Aztec Empire; and the “Fisherman’s Treasure”, a set of Mixtec gold ornaments plundered by Spanish conquistadors and destined for Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and Spanish king, but lost en route to Spain. Recovered from a shipwreck in the 1970s, these final works are poignant reminders of the brilliant traditions of ancient America’s lost golden kingdoms.
“Ideas about artistic production in the ancient Americas have traditionally been based on works in ceramic and stone—objects of durable materials,” said Joanne Pillsbury, The Met’s Andrall E. Pearson curator of the arts of the Ancient Americas.
“But there were also exquisitely worked objects of rare and fragile materials—most of which were destroyed at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Countless works of gold and silver were melted down, and delicate native manuscripts were deliberately burned as part of campaigns to stamp out native religions. And time has taken a heavy toll on featherworks and textiles, which were considered more precious than gold by many indigenous
societies. What we present in this show are not only spectacular artworks, but also rare and enormously important objects that escaped destruction.”
In conjunction with the exhibition, The Met will offer a variety of education programmes, including Sunday at The Met—Golden Kingdoms: Forests of Jade (March 25th); Family Afternoon—Lasting Legacy (April 8th); MetFridays—Artists Respond to Golden Kingdoms: Teresita Fernández (April 13th); a Conversation with ... (English and Spanish languages, March 23rd and April 27th); and Access Discoveries (for children and adults with learning and developmental disabilities (April 22nd).
Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas is coorganised by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The exhibition is curated by The Met’s Joanne Pillsbury, Andrall E. Pearson curator of the Ancient Americas, in collaboration with Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum; and Kim Richter, senior research specialist at the Getty Research Institute.
The exhibition is made possible in part by David Yurman. Additional support is provided by the Sherman Fairchild Foundation, Alice Cary Brown and W.L. Lyons Brown, the Estate of Brooke Astor, the Lacovara Family Endowment Fund, William R. Rhodes, and The Daniel and Estrellita Brodsky Foundation.
Golden Kingdoms is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. The exhibition was previously on view as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/ LA at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center (September 16th 2017–January 28th 2018).
n PAIR OF EAR ORNAMENTS WITH WINGED RUNNERS Gold, turquoise, sodalite, shell Moche, A.D. 400–700Peru, North CoastThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift and Bequest of Alice K. Bache, 1966, 1977 n EAR ORNAMENT DEPICTING A WARRIOR Gold, turquoise, wood Moche, A.D. 640–680Peru, Sipán, Tomb of the Lord of Sipán (Tomb 1) Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán, Lambayeque, Peru, Ministerio de Cultura del Perú Photo: Juan Pablo Murrugarra Villanueva
n ANDRÉS SÁNCHEZ GALQUE (Andean, active Quito, about 1599) Don Francisco de Arobe and Sons Pedro and Domingo, A.D. 1599 Oil on canvasMuseo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (PO4778)© Museo Nacional del Prado
n STELA WITH QUEEN IX MUTAL AHAW LimestoneMaya, A.D. 761 Mexico or Guatemala Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift ofMrs. Paul L. Wattis Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums ofSan Francisco
n TABARDWITH LIZARD-LIKE CREATURES Feathers on cotton Nasca, A.D. 500–750 Peru, South Coast Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Fund Photo: Katherine Wetzel © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts