Spaniards arriving in sixteenth-century South America encountered a rich and complex indigenous tradition of gold working that had developed over the course of millennia. Many, if not most, Precolumbian works in gold were melted down in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, their precious metal repurposed for new religious and secular leaders both in Spain and the Americas.
This crown was made to adorn a sacred image of the Virgin Mary venerated in the cathedral of Popayán (Colombia). A symbol of the Virgin’s divine queenship, the crown is encircled by golden vinework set with emerald clusters in the shape of flowers, a reference to her purity. The diadem is topped by imperial arches and a cross-bearing orb that symbolizes Christ’s dominion over the world.
Although the practice was controversial, it was common to bestow lavish gifts, including jewels and sumptuous garments, on sculptures of the Virgin Mary. To gain salvation, the faithful sought her intercession and worked to honor her and increase the splendor of her worship. At the same time, the crown represents one of the most distinctive artistic achievements of a region whose wealth derived from the mining of gold and emeralds.
Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, Cathedral of Popayán (Colombia); Tomás Olano y Hurtado, Popayán [syndic of the confraternity, granted permission to sell the crown by Pius X in 1914]; his son, Manuel José Olano, Popayán, until 1936; Warren G. Piper, Chicago, until 1938; Oscar Heyman & Brothers, New York, until 1963; Sotheby & Co., London, November 21, 1963; sold to Asscher Diamond Company, Amsterdam, acting on behalf of Oscar Heyman (1888-1970), New York; his daughter, Alice Heyman, New York, 1973-2015; sold to MMA.