The 'Crown of the Andes' is considered one of the most important surviving examples of goldsmith work from colonial Spanish America..."
The "Crown of the Andes" was made to adorn a sacred image the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception venerated in Popayán cathedral, in the former Spanish viceroyalty of New Granada (now Colombia). An attribute of Mary's divine queenship, the gold crown is encircled by scrolls of acanthus leaves set with emeralds in blossom-shaped clusters that symbolize the Virgin's purity. The diadem, made in the mid-seventeenth century, is surmounted by four imperial arches made a little more than a century later. Pear-shaped emerald pendants are suspended beneath them and they are topped by a cross-bearing orb that signifies Christ's dominion over the world. The crown is encrusted with nearly 450 emeralds, the largest one being a twenty-four-carat gemstone known as the "Atahualpa emerald."
Although the practice was controversial, it was common throughout the Catholic world to bestow lavish gifts, including jewels and sumptuous garments, on sculptures of the Virgin Mary. Such gifts, which exalted the Virgin and increased the splendor of her worship, were frequently offered by devotees who sought her intercession or wished to give thanks for it. In Popayán, the cult of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception was promoted by a confraternity of believers who oversaw the care and ritual presentation of her image, which was crowned and carried in public procession on certain Marian feast days. The treasury safeguarded by the confraternity included not only this magnificent gold and emerald crown, but also a simpler gilt silver one, as well as jeweled rings, bracelets, earrings, silver chains, and strands of pearls.
The "Crown of the Andes" is considered one of the most important surviving examples of goldsmith work from colonial Spanish America. Notable for its rarity, richness, and exquisite craftsmanship, the crown represents the most distinctive artistic achievement of a locale whose wealth derived from the mining of gold and emeralds.
The American Wing