DMA Announces Acquisition of Major Pre-Columbian Objects

The Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) today announced the acquisition of three major pre-Columbian works that significantly enrich the Museum’s important holdings, considered to be one of the great strengths of the DMA’s permanent collection. The works are Cylindrical vessel with sacrificial scene (Guatemala or Mexico, Maya culture, c. A.D. 600-850) Tunic with profile heads and stepped frets (Peru, Huari culture, A.D. 650-800); and Crown with deity figures (Peru, Chavín style, c. 900-200 B.C.). The unveiling of the new acquisitions coincides with the presentation of Lords of Creation: The Origins of Sacred Maya Kingship, on view Feb. 12 through May 7. The objects can be seen in the Art of the Americas galleries on Level 4.

“The diversity of the acquisitions, along with the chronological, geographical, and cultural range, further distinguishes the Dallas Museum of Art’s pre-Columbian collection as one of the most significant in the U.S.,” said John R. Lane, The Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art. “The objects are extraordinary, both aesthetically and iconographically, particularized by the gestures that animate the figures of the vessel, the vivid colors of the tunic, and the sculptural clarity of the crown.”

Cylindrical vessel with sacrificial scene
The Museum’s Maya objects form one of the most significant groupings within the pre-Columbian collection, but the last major acquisitions in this area were made in the late 1980s. The Cylindrical vessel with sacrificial scene complements the Cylindrical vessel with ritual ballgame scene, which is one of the most frequently illustrated pre-Columbian works of art in the permanent collection, and brings a sense of action—high ritual drama and dance—to the ancient American galleries.

The Cylindrical vessel with sacrificial scene, which portrays a human sacrifice in great detail, is notable for its elegant use of color and line, its unusual black background and its dramatic composition, which is rich in symbolic imagery.

The focal point of the scene is the nude body of a sacrificed man, who stares directly at the viewer. As his body lies across a stone altar, an executioner dances beside the victim, holding an instrument for heart excision in one hand and a giant macaw in the other. On the other side of the victim a king dances holding a jaguar, and like the executioner, he wears blood-splattered white garments.

In the Maya culture, human blood was considered the most important offering that human beings could make to the gods. The gift of human life was the supreme sacrifice. This graphic scene may refer to the founding of a dynasty, the defeat of a rival kingdom, or the dedication of a stela.

A key to the meaning of the scene may lie in the in the nature of the dance or in the role of the animals, which represent animal spirit companions, which are associated with the dark forces manipulated by sorcerers. The victim’s face is rendered frontally, an unusual position in Maya painting, in which profile faces are dominant.

The acquisition of Cylindrical vessel with sacrificial scene was made possible by the General Acquisitions Fund, The Otis and Velma Davis Dozier Fund, and The Roberta Coke Camp Fund.

Tunic with profile heads and stepped frets
The Tunic with profile heads and stepped frets ends a long search for a tunic from the Huari (Wari) culture to fulfill the Dallas Museum of Art criteria: vibrant color, classic design and excellent condition. The tunic—an untailored garment made with two long rectangular panels of tapestry-woven cloth with an opening for the head and arms—is one of the most-fitting works of art to represent the Huari culture.

The DMA’s tunic features of vivid red and bright pink, along with light blue (relatively rare in Huari tunics) and purple. The composition pairs a stylized profile head and a stepped fret or spiral, considered to be among the most classic designs. The basic design block is repeated throughout the textile, but with inversions, reversals, and color substitution that add variety and complexity.

The use of white stripes or lines to outline key elements of the design is characteristic of Huari tunics in this style, but it is particularly precise in the Dallas Museum of Art’s new acquisition.

“This exceptionally fine tunic meets our long-held expectations,” said Carol Robbins, The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Curator of the Arts of the Americas and the Pacific. “It is an important work that is critical to the presentation and understanding of the Huari culture and the Andean Middle Horizon.”

The quality of the weaving and the sophistication of the design suggest that the tapestry tunics were worn by men of high rank or status on special occasions, but most show signs of wear consistent with everyday use, perhaps by ordinary men.

Ultimately, tunics functioned as burial goods, often as the outer covering for mummy bundles.

Huari, in the central highlands of Peru, is one of two imperial cities that had widespread influence on Andean art between A.D. 600 and 1000. The other is Tiwanaku (or Tiahuanaco), in Bolivia. These cities are often called the first Andean empires.

The acquisition of Tunic with profile heads and stepped frets was made possible by The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

Crown with deity figures
This remarkable work in sheet gold portrays three images of the Staff God, the primary Chavín deity. The iconography of the crown links it to the ancient ceremonial center of Chavín de Huántar, where a famous and influential image of this deity was engraved on a granite slab.

Symbols of powerful predators—jaguar, harpy eagle, cayman, and serpent—define the image of the Staff God. The large head features a snarling mouth with feline fangs. Serpent heads emerge from the figure’s head and waist. Heads in profile accent elbows and legs. Talons mark fingers and toes. Rows of teeth with pointed incisors form a vertical band on the torso and the upright staff in each hand.

The sculptural clarity of the forms and the dramatic use of negative space distinguish the crown among the known examples of Chavín goldwork.

This acquisition further enriches the broad representation of ancient American gold in the DMA’s Nora and John Wise Collection, acquired in 1976, with tremendous strengths in gold from the Sicán culture of Peru (A.D. 900-1100), Colombia, (500 B.C.-A.D. 1500), and Panama (A. D. 700-1500).

The acquisition of Crown with deity figures was made possible by The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

About the Dallas Museum of Art
The Dallas Museum of Art, established in 1903, has an encyclopedic collection of more than 23,000 works spanning 5,000 years of history and representing all media with renowned strengths in the arts of the ancient Americas, Africa, Indonesia and South Asia; European and American painting, sculpture and decorative arts; and American and international contemporary art.

The Dallas Museum of Art is the anchor of the Dallas Arts District and, in all its vitality, serves as a cultural magnet for the city with diverse programming ranging from exhibitions and lectures to concerts, literary readings, and dramatic dance presentations. The Museum serves more than one-half million visitors a year and offers more than 3,500 education and public programs annually, designed to engage people of all ages with the power and excitement of art.

The Dallas Museum of Art is supported in part by the generosity of Museum members and donors and by the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas/Office of Cultural Affairs and the Texas Commission on the Arts.

The Dallas Museum of Art is committed to responsible practice in its acquisitions of antiquities, including researching provenance/collection history and establishing assurance of good title.