Most of the gold objects that survive today from Precolumbian America are wearable ornaments such as pectorals, necklaces, headdresses, and ear and nose ornaments, which display great diversity in style and iconography. Among unusual forms are finials thought to have adorned staffs of rank or office. They were made by the Zenú people of the Caribbean lowlands in northwestern Colombia and have thimble-shaped caps topped with three-dimensional figures of birds, animals, or humans. Cast by the lost-wax process of the gold-copper alloy tumbaga, the small sculptures are often ornate and detailed, as is this bird with its openwork false-filigree chest and head crest.
After a hiatus for World War II, interest in the peoples and civilizations of ancient America revived in certain art museums when attention turned to Precolumbian art. Such a museum was the Cleveland Museum of Art, where an exhibit titled Art of the Americas opened in 1945. An illustrated publication relating to the exhibition, Picture Book, Number Two, featured this upright gold bird of show-off demeanor on the cover. Long-beaked, with a great curly crest, it sits atop a gold finial that belonged at the time to New York antiquity dealer John Wise. It became part of the Rockefeller collection in 1949, and was shown in 1953 in Primitive Sculpture from the Collection of Nelson A. Rockefeller at New York's Century Association, the first exhibition to be drawn from the collection.
[John Wise Ltd., New York, acquired by 1945; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1949, on loan to the Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1958–1978
Art of the Americas (A special exhibition held in the museum from Nov. 8, 1945 through Jan. 6, 1946). Picture Book Series, Vol. no. 2. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1946, Cover, p. 46.
Bennett, Wendell C. Ancient Arts of the Andes: Museum of Modern Art, New York, in collaboration with the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco [and] the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. New York: Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1954, p. 144, fig. 168.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 464.
Legast, Anne. La fauna en la orfebrería sinú. Bogota: Fundación de Investigaciones Arqueológicas Nacionales, Banco de la República, 1980.
Jones, Julie. The Art of Precolumbian Gold: The Jan Mitchell Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985.
Falchetti de Sáenz, Ana Maria. El oro del Gran Zenú: Metalurgia prehispánica en las llanuras del Caribe colombiano. Bogota: Museo del Oro, Banco de la República, 1995.
Jones, Julie, and Heidi King. "Gold of the Americas." The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art vol. 59, no. 4 (Spring 2002).
Sánchez Cabra, Efraín. Zenú/Urabá. Bogota: Museo del Oro, Banco de la República, 2008.