Unknown artist, Catfish Pendant. Diquis Region, Costa Rica, 800–1522 CE. Gold alloy. 4.25 x 2.625 x .5 in. Gift of the collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 1995.718.
About A.D. 800–1500
Costa Rica or Panama, Greater Chiriquí region
Gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 1995.718
The physical characteristics of this hollow fish pendant, rendered in cast gold, suggest that it represents a catfish. Telling traits include the flattened body, typical of bottom -feeders, and extravagant mouth emanations that evoke the mobile whiskers (barbels) of a catfish. Beneath the emanations is a wide mouth with two rows of tiny rectangular teeth. This broad mouth, together with the body’s smooth surface, indicate that the pendant is not one of Costa Rica’s armored catfish species, which have sucker mouths and bodies covered with bony plates. Whichever specific fish inspired this gold pendant, several anatomically impossible traits signal the presence of supernatural powers. These include the serpentine, crocodile-headed form of two mouth emanations; the lack of a dorsal fin; and the position of the tail, which lies flat, rather than perpendicular to the plane of the body. Most puzzling of all are the six bulbous nodules that project from the sides of the body, perhaps representing either eyes or breasts.
- “ReVision: Art in the Americas” — Denver Art Museum, 10/24/2021 – 7/17/2022