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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.

Pair of Ear Ornaments Depicting Supernatural Felines
Gold with turquoise and sodalite inlay

4 1/2 x 4 3/8 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 pair of ear ornaments depicts supernatural felines wearing Moché-style crowns. Feline grace, strength, ferocity, and ability to see in the dark made these creatures symbols of royalty and the gods. The felines on these ear ornaments have human hands. The turquoise inlaid spots adorning each figure were thought to resemble beans. Felines were associated with agricultural fertility because they were the natural enemies of crop-eating birds and rodents.

From 100 to 800 AD, the Moché culture inhabited the Pacific coast of present-day northern Peru. Like other cultures of this harsh, dry region, they were concerned with water and agricultural fertility. Periodic droughts and floods caused by the weather phenomenon now known as El Niño made the Moché seek supernatural help to ensure their survival. In this effort they created artworks of personal and religious adornment from sheets of gold, the substance of the sun; silver, the substance of the moon; copper, the substance of blood and fertility; and alloys, or combinations of different metals. Their art demonstrates a sophisticated knowledge of the properties of these metals.