Anthropomorphous votive figure

Eastern Cordillera - Muisca Period600/1600

Museo del Oro, Bogotá

Museo del Oro, Bogotá
Bogota, Colombia

From an artistic viewpoint, the Muisca figures known as "tunjos" display a style and plastic language of their own, far removed from the European, academic representation of the human figure. They were first modelled in wax and then cast using the lost wax method, with no subsequent polishing or addition of finishing touches. Their basic shape is generally that of a triangular sheet, on which the features were made using wax strands: a face in the form of a shield, a strand for the nose, an oval for each eye, and normally thread-like arms and legs. If we look closely at the object, we can imagine the wax work that the metalsmith did, the tools he used, and we can wonder, for example, whether he heated the strand that marks the nose in order to stick it carefully to the face sheet.

This portrait, of a naked woman, is notable amongst Muisca art because the metalsmith added 3D arms and legs to a triangular sheet that had already flat arms and legs, thereby achieving an interesting effect. The woman is seated, which in indigenous America indicates her ritual importance, as do her large headdress and the stick with a bird on it that she is carrying in her hand. The Muiscas were "clothed people": Spanish chronicler Juan de Castellanos described them thus in order to differentiate them from tribes or societies from tropical lowlands. They were organised in powerful chieftainships and lived on the cold, high plains, where they covered themselves with finely-woven cotton blankets, decorated occasionally with painted drawings in red and ochre tones. It was a characteristic of the Muiscas' artistic language that virtually all anthropomorphous metal figures which represented people showed them nude but adorned, although many do not show the sexual organs. We know that priests took their clothes off when they entered a sacred site like a forest to place an offering. And the offerings entered the sacred place naked, too. EL


  • Title: Anthropomorphous votive figure
  • Creator: Eastern Cordillera - Muisca Period
  • Creator Lifespan: 600/1600
  • Creator Nationality: Colombia
  • Creator Death Place: Colombia
  • Creator Birth Place: Colombia
  • Date: 600/1600
  • Physical Dimensions: w66 x h159 mm
  • Type: Goldwork
  • External Link: Cosmology and Symbolism room
  • Technique: Lost wax casting in gold
  • Finding: Colombia
  • Accession number: O00078

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