Gold Mask & Chain
South Maluku, Eastern Indonesia
circa 17th century and later
length: 58cm, height of pendant: 6.5cm, weight: 86g
This gold mask pendant is made from two thick pieces of sheet gold over a resin or lac core. The front is repoussed with a horned figure – perhaps a kala head – with a flowing beard decorated as foliage, probably based on an ancestor mask (wutulai). The back is of plain sheet gold. The pendant has light-red staining achieved by means of treatment with tamarind pulp. Such a pendant might have been hung around the neck, but also possibly from the top of the head over the forehead.
The pendant is attached to an old chain of hollow gold loops, which in turn, is attached to another chain of double gold loops with edges decorated with twisted gold filigree. The ends of the chain are attached to two large zoomorphic gold fasteners.
Most such gold has been found on Tanimbar Island in the Maluku Islands (Moluccas) of Eastern Indonesia. It was kept as heirloom (
adat) pieces by wealthier families and worn on important occasions. It does not appear to have been made locally, and possibly was imported from either Java or from South Sulawesi.
Dating such gold is difficult. A possible dating for the pendant and first chain is around the 17th century. The second chain is probably later, perhaps dating to the 18th-19th century. Related pendants are illustrated in Richter & Carpenter (2012, p. 65-8) and have been given dates as early as the 17th century
or earlier. Other published sources (such as Marzio, 2011, p. 265) opt for a broader date range of 17th-19th centuries. The fact that the gold was treated as heirloom pieces to be passed from one generation to the next, plus the condition and patina of many extant pieces, suggests that an earlier dating is quite feasible. This is especially the case if such gold was deemed to be imbued with magical or talismanic properties meaning that it was unlikely to be melted down.
A related pendant and chain was offered as lot 229 in the Hapsburg, Feldman’s Geneva gold auction, ‘Gold: Important Ancient and Ethnic Jewellery and Works of Art in Precious Metal’, in May, 1990. The estimate was 25,000-30,000 Swiss Francs. (Total weight was 80.7g).
The pendant and chains here are in fine condition. The set is stable and wearable, but also decorative as a collector’s piece.
Brinkgreve, F., & D.J. Stuart-Fox (eds), Living with Indonesian Art: The Frits Liefkes Collection, Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde, 2013.
Hapsburg, Feldman, ‘Gold: Important Ancient and Ethnic Jewellery and Works of Art in Precious Metal’, Geneva, 14 May, 1990.
de Jonge, N., & T. van Dijk,
Forgotten Islands of Indonesia: The Art & Culture of the Southeast Moluccas, Periplus Editions, 1995.
et al, Maluku: Sharing Cultural Memory, Museum fur Volker Kunde, 2012.
The Glassell Collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: Masterworks of Pre-Columbian, Indonesian, and African Gold, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2011.
Richter, A., & B. Carpenter,
Gold Jewellery of the Indonesian Archipelago, Editions Didier Millet, 2012.
Schefold, R. (ed.),
Eyes of the Ancestors: The Arts of Island Southeast Asia at the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Museum of Art/Yale University Press, 2013.Provenance:
UK private collection
Inventory no.: 3356
A Tanimbar elder with similar, though probably later, gold pendants,