Nose ornaments are among the earliest jewelry forms in ancient Peru and were made in a variety of styles. Among the Moche people of the north coast, they were an essential part of both male and female royal regalia. Living in the dry desert, the Moche depended on products from the sea for food and inland trade; hence, sea creatures of all kinds played an important role in their mythology and are frequent themes in their art. On this handsome ornament, which covered the wearer's mouth when worn, two realistically rendered shrimp are worked in sheet-gold tabbed through slits to the silver crescent. It has been suggested that the shape and combination of metals may have indicated the rank and/or function of the wearer.
High-quality Moche ceramic vessels began appearing on the art market in Peru in the 1960s. They came, apparently, from the far north, while traditionally the Moche world centered further south in the Moche Valley itself. Moche style works of art in metal—fine personal ornaments of gold and silver—also appeared, and finally numerous looted northern tombs were identified. Some of the metal works were not dispersed individually, but kept together, going instead to markets in the United States or Europe. This handsome silver and gold nose ornament was part of such a group from the site of Loma Negra in the northern Piura Valley.
[Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York, until 1969]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1969, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1969–1978
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