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The Glassell Collections of African, Indonesian & Pre-Columbian Gold

Houston philanthropist Alfred C. Glassell, Jr., had a passion for collecting, a fascination with gold art objects, and a desire to share them with the world. Like the cultures that fashioned these treasures, he valued gold not for its intrinsic value but for its spiritual meaning. The extensive collections of African, Indonesian, and Pre-Columbian gold that he gave the MFAH are a remarkable legacy. Among the highlights are a golden staff created by the Akan peoples of Ghana, a rare burial mask from Java, and jewelry made by the Moché culture of Peru.

Peru, north coast
Ornament Depicting a Fanged Earth God
900-200 BC

3 1/4 x 4 5/8 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Alfred C. Glassell, Jr.

Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, & the Americas

Arts of Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean
The Glassell Collections of African, Indonesian & Pre-Columbian Gold

This ornament depicts a fanged earth god. Streams of blood flow from its mouth, and coiled snakes slither along the top of its head. This deity was related to agricultural renewal and fertility.

From 900 to 200 BC the Chavín culture inhabited the highlands of the Pacific coast of present-day northern Peru. This dry region between the mountains and sea was subject to periods of violent floods and droughts. Agricultural fertility was a primary concern, and the people sought supernatural help to ensure their survival.

The Chavín believed that gold was the substance of the sun and that it possessed spiritual power. They were one of the first Pre-Columbian cultures to make gold artworks. The Chavín are famous for intricate, intertwined images of condors, felines, and serpents--religious symbols of fertility and divinity. Gold art was worn only by rulers and shamans, who were believed to have supernatural abilities. Chavín art was found in graves and sanctuaries.