This ornament, in the form of a mask, is worked in sheet gold alloy, and is typical of the goldwork worn in the Maluku Islands (Moluccas) in Eastern Indonesia. The mask is suspended from two seedpod-like elements. Three leaf or petal motifs are suspended from the mask by gold chains.
The mask probably is based on an ancestor mask (wutulai). The face though does have Chinese characteristics which accords with there having been small, local Chinese trading communities across Eastern Indonesia. The Glassell Collection of gold at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, includes a gold pendant from Maluku that shows what is obviously a Chinese male figure wearing a Chinese tangzhuang jacket. (See Marzio, 2011, p. 262).
Such a pendant might have been hung around the neck, but also possibly from the top of the head over the forehead.
Most such gold has been found on Tanimbar Island in the Maluku Islands (Moluccas) of Eastern Indonesia. Such pieces were kept as heirloom (adat) pieces by wealthier families and worn on important occasions. Examples were made either locally or possibly imported from either Java or from South Sulawesi.
This item comprised lot 222, in the ‘Gold: Important ancient and ethnic jewellery and works of art in precious metal’, sale of auctioneers Hapsburg, Feldman of Geneva, Switzerland, May 14, 1990. See the final two images below for the catalogue entry. The item was catalogued erroneously as being from ‘Timor’ Indonesia, rather than Maluku, Indonesia.
The tip of one ear has a small tear, but otherwise, the ornament is in fine condition.
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.
Kuhnt-Saptodewo, S., et al, Maluku: Sharing Cultural Memory, Museum fur Volker Kunde, 2012.
Marzio, F., 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.