Published: March 27, 2012
The Bowers Museum’s newest exhibit, “Sacred Gold: Pre-Hispanic Art of Colombia,” opens to the public March 31 and remains on view through July 1.
This rich exhibit traces the legacy of gold in pre-Hispanic Colombia in more than 200 exceptional objects, supplemented by text, map, chronology and photographs that put in context the pieces that make up this collection from the Museo del Oro and the Banco de Republica, Bogotá, Colombia.
Goldsmithing in Colombia is believed to date from about 800 BCE and is the source for some of its greatest artwork. For the pre-Hispanic cultures of present-day Colombia, gold held no monetary value; it was a gift from the Sun and held a deep symbolic meaning. Gold’s physical and chemical properties inspired the creation of expertly crafted figures of spirits, animals and humans that communicated this culture’s understanding and philosophy of the universe and all that existed within it.
Gold is impervious to virtually all corrosives, and the pristine examples, used by both ordinary and extraordinary members of the community, include nose rings, earrings, breastplates and pendants, as well as complex showy objects, including body adornments and votive figures, all symbols of rank and power. The objects within this exhibition reinforce the importance of archaeology’s role in reconstructing the past in order to provide valuable information for the living.
For nearly 2,000 years prior to the Spanish conquest, Indians in South America were creating gold pieces and developing skills and techniques whose sophistication equaled or surpassed those of their contemporaries in Europe. The Spaniards were so impressed with the gold work of these Indians they conquered in the Sixteenth Century, that one of the world’s most enduring myths developed as a result †the imaginary land of El Dorado.
Also on view at the museum is “California Gold.” This exhibition, which runs to September 9, focuses on stunningly beautiful specimens of native Californian gold brought to life by gold rush memorabilia. The Mojave Nugget, the largest known gold nugget ever found in California, is on view. The nugget, which weighs 156 troy ounces, is part of the Margie and Robert E. Petersen collection of gold nuggets that was donated to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Rounding out the exhibit are artifacts from Northern California’s Oriental Mine and recovered treasure from SS Central America, sometimes called the “Ship of Gold.” The ship sank in a hurricane in September 1857, along with 400 passengers and crew and 30,000 pounds of gold, greatly contributing to the Panic of 1857.
The Bowers Museum is at 2002 North Main Street. For information, 714-567-3600 or www.bowers.org .
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