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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Pre-Columbian Masterpieces : Atlantic Watershed Jade Monkey Pendant
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Atlantic Watershed Jade Monkey Pendant - PF.2372
Origin: Eastern Costa Rica
Circa: 1 AD to 500 AD
Dimensions: 4.5" (11.4cm) high
Catalogue: V8
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Medium: Jade

Location: UAE
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In the context of Pre-Columbian art and archaeology, jade is a generic term that refers to any variety of hard, dense stones that were worked with great skill by native artists. Although jade is generally thought to be green, it can actually be a range of colors. Jade carving flourished in ancient Costa Rica for over a thousand years, roughly from 500 B.C. to 900 A.D., although the period of greatest artistic accomplishment lasted from 300 to 700 A.D. It is believed that jade working began during an extended period of agricultural abundance that allowed the ancient society to dedicate part of its energies toward the cultivation of artistic pursuits.

Jade was considered to be a sacred material by the ancient populations of Costa Rica, held in even higher esteem than gold. Generally, it was thought to symbolize that vital life force that sustains us all. The color green is naturally associated with verdant plant life. Specifically, jade was thought to symbolize the sprouting maize plant, that staple of the Pre-Columbian diet. It has also been suggested that jade represents water. Either way, we can be certain that jade represented the very essence of life itself.

To date, no native sources of jade have been discovered in Costa Rica, suggesting an extended trade network existed that imported this precious resource from Mesoamerica into Costa Rica where it was carved by local artists. Such trade also would have brought great wealth and likely reinforced the social stratification of the peoples. Jade may have served as a status marker to distinguish the elite from the masses and solidify their hold on power. We can picture an ancient ruler or shaman presiding over a sacred ceremonial adorned in brilliant green jade pendants and jewelry. The ancient Costa Ricans believe that the system of social hierarchy also extended into the afterlife. Therefore, jade objects were buried with the elite so that their power could be maintained throughout eternity.

Because of its rarity and exquisite beauty, jade assumed both powerful and mystical qualities in ancient Costa Rican culture. Indeed, this carved jade anthropomorphized monkey pendant is a stunning example of this spirited dynamism. Masterfully carved in the form of a monkey, the artist has imbued this piece with humanistic elements as well--while arms are held at the chest, knees are drawn up in a posture that is characteristic of human Axe-God pendants. A deftly carved facial expression of concentrated power captures our imagination and emotions, hearkening us back to the time when this magical pendant would have hung from the neck of its owner, imbuing him with spirited strength. Two perforations in the pendant may have been made for different hanging positions or to accommodate the addition of a strand of small beads, yet another element of transformational powers. To experience this magnificent work of ancient Costa Rican art is engage ourselves in a magical journey through time and space, for we too are participating in the ancient emotional responses that this powerful carved monkey pendant evokes. - (PF.2372)


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