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A B O V E

A pendant in gold depicting a figure with human and jaguar
attributes from Colombia’s Tolima region (1 BC–AD 700).
Bogotá, Museo del Oro, Banco de la República.

Golden Kingdoms

Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas

Golden Kingdoms

Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas

Golden Kingdoms is a bona fide blockbuster of pre-Columbian bling.

— T H E   N E W   Y O R K   T I M E S

Golden Kingdoms is a bona fide blockbuster of pre-Columbian bling.

— T H E   N E W   Y O R K   T I M E S

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A B O V E

Inlaid with turquoise and other precious materials, this Moche
ear ornament (AD 400–700) intricately depicts a winged runner.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A B O V E

Inlaid with turquoise and other precious materials, this Moche
ear ornament (AD 400–700) intricately depicts a winged runner.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Continuing in the Classical Tradition

In the ancient Americas, materials for luxury arts were meant to provoke a strong response—sensually and conceptually—to transport the wearer and beholders to new realms. “This speaks to me on a personal level as a designer and an artist,” says David Yurman. “The Met was my temple in my early twenties when I was dating my wife Sybil. She was at Hunter College and I drove her to the city from Putnam Valley where we lived and then went to the museum, getting to know the jewelry. It was my foundation.”
 

David’s fascination with ancient jewelry later became the catalyst to make historical forms contemporary—an idea that began with the first Cable bracelet and continues today. The fundamental role that the Met played for David and Sybil, as well as Golden Kingdoms’ cutting-edge exploration of luxury, visual arts and women in power inspired them to sponsor the exhibition at the New York City institution.

Continuing in the Classical Tradition

In the ancient Americas, materials for luxury arts were meant to provoke a strong response—sensually and conceptually—to transport the wearer and beholders to new realms. “This speaks to me on a personal level as a designer and an artist,” says David Yurman. “The Met was my temple in my early twenties when I was dating my wife Sybil. She was at Hunter College and I drove her to the city from Putnam Valley where we lived and then went to the museum, getting to know the jewelry. It was my foundation.”

David’s fascination with ancient jewelry later became the catalyst to make historical forms contemporary—an idea that began with the first Cable bracelet and continues today. The fundamental role that the Met played for David and Sybil, as well as Golden Kingdoms’ cutting-edge exploration of luxury, visual arts and women in power inspired them to sponsor the exhibition at the New York City institution.

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A B O V E

A rare example of Aztec gold-working, this serpent labret
(AD 1300–1521) or lip pendant was cast with a movable tongue
to symbolize the emperor’s eloquence. New York,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A B O V E

 A rare example of Aztec gold-working, this
serpent labret (AD 1300–1521) or lip pendant
was cast with a movable tongue to symbolize
the emperor’s eloquence. New York,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Golden Road

Spanning 2,600 years and 2,600 miles, this landmark exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City follows the journey of gold artistry from the lands of the Incas to the lands of the Aztecs. With more than 300 works—including newly excavated pieces and masterpieces that have never left their home countries until now—Golden Kingdoms is a stunning celebration of pre-Columbian art. Yet, at its core, the show is about much more than ancient relics. It explores the universal concept of how, in an impermanent world, we anchor our deepest beliefs by capturing them in physical form.

The Golden Road

Spanning 2,600 years and 2,600 miles, this landmark exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City follows the journey of gold artistry from the lands of the Incas to the lands of the Aztecs. With more than 300 works—including newly excavated pieces and masterpieces that have never left their home countries until now—Golden Kingdoms is a stunning celebration of pre-Columbian art. Yet, at its core, the show is about much more than ancient relics. It explores the universal concept of how, in an impermanent world, we anchor our deepest beliefs by capturing them in physical form.

Watch David Yurman and curator Joanne Pillsbury discuss Golden Kingdoms

Watch David Yurman and curator
Joanne Pillsbury discuss "Golden Kingdoms"

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A B O V E

Found in a high-status tomb, a funerary mask (AD 900-1100)
made from an alloy of gold, silver and copper.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A B O V E

Found in a high-status tomb, a funerary mask (AD 900-1100)
made from an alloy of gold, silver and copper.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Gifts from the Gods

In the ancient Americas, precious metals were not used for coins or weapons. They were inhabited by divine power: gold was associated with the sun and men, and silver with the moon and women. Gold-working was likely first embraced in South America (around 2000 B.C.) using repoussé, a technique where sheets of metals are hammered from the back producing low-relief ornamentation. Gold artistry then slowly spread northward from the Andes to what is now Mexico.

At the beginning of the first millennium, pre-Columbian metalsmiths mastered techniques to combine gold and silver in a single piece, representing the union of masculine and feminine. This fusion of materials resonated with David Yurman, as mixed metals are a cornerstone of his jewelry.

Gifts from the Gods

In the ancient Americas, precious metals were not used for coins or weapons. They were inhabited by divine power: gold was associated with the sun and men, and silver with the moon and women. Gold-working was likely first embraced in South America (around 2000 B.C.) using repoussé, a technique where sheets of metals are hammered from the back producing low-relief ornamentation. Gold artistry then slowly spread northward from the Andes to what is now Mexico.

At the beginning of the first millennium, pre-Columbian metalsmiths mastered techniques to combine gold and silver in a single piece, representing the union of masculine and feminine. This fusion of materials resonated with David Yurman, as mixed metals are a cornerstone of his jewelry.

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A B O V E

A chest ornament (AD 200-900) fashioned from a hammered gold sheet.
Bogotá, Museo del Oro, Banco de la República.

A B O V E

A chest ornament (AD 200-900) fashioned from a hammered gold sheet.
Bogotá, Museo del Oro, Banco de la República.

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A B O V E

A ceremonial pre-Incan knife (AD 900–1100)
representing a golden deity with turquoise stones in his headdress.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A B O V E

A ceremonial pre-Incan knife (AD 900–1100)
representing a golden deity with turquoise stones in his headdress.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Powerful Women

Another element of the exhibition that inspired David Yurman is the role prominent women played in these early societies—a very recent archaeological discovery. Some of the most spectacular creations express the power and importance of queens and priestesses, shining a new light on gender in the ancient Americas.
 

Along with their rich decoration, these labor-intensive works were also steeped in symbolism that used the body as its canvas. Jewelry that drew attention to the mouth  expressed the wearer’s eloquence. Elaborate ear ornaments communicated noble status. When the Spanish arrived in the Americas, they were able to identify the ruling class by their elongated floppy ears adorned with spectacular ornamentation.

Powerful Women

Another element of the exhibition that inspired David Yurman is the role prominent women played in these early societies—a very recent archaeological discovery. Some of the most spectacular creations express the power and importance of queens and priestesses, shining a new light on gender in the ancient Americas.
 

Along with their rich decoration, these labor-intensive works were also steeped in symbolism that used the body as its canvas. Jewelry that drew attention to the mouth  expressed the wearer’s eloquence. Elaborate ear ornaments communicated noble status. When the Spanish arrived in the Americas, they were able to identify the ruling class by their elongated floppy ears adorned with spectacular ornamentation.

These exquisite objects were a primary
means by which ideas were exchanged
across regions and through time.


— J O A N N E   P I L L S B U R Y,
C U R A T O R

These exquisite objects
were a primary means by
which ideas were exchanged
across regions and through
time.


— J O A N N E   P I L L S B U R Y,
C U R A T O R

A Rare Legacy

“These works were among the most important of their time and their survival is exceptionally rare,” says Joanne Pillsbury, the exhibition’s curator. “Gold—that most mutable of materials—was quickly melted down at the time of the conquest and beyond,” she explains.
 

Fortunately, some breathtaking examples of pre-Colombian virtuosity remain, such as a plundered set of gold ornaments recovered from a Spanish shipwreck— provoking a reaction that’s the same today as it was in the past. When seeing Aztec emperor Montezuma’s treasures, Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer wrote, “I have never in all my days seen anything that so delighted my heart as these things. For I saw amazing objects and I marveled at the subtle ingenuity of the men in these distant lands. "

A Rare Legacy

“These works were among the most important of their time and their survival is exceptionally rare,” says Joanne Pillsbury, the exhibition’s curator. “Gold—that most mutable of materials—was quickly melted down at the time of the conquest and beyond,” she explains.

Fortunately, some breathtaking examples of pre-Colombian virtuosity remain, such as a plundered set of gold ornaments recovered from a Spanish shipwreck— provoking a reaction that’s the same today as it was in the past. When seeing Aztec emperor Montezuma’s treasures, Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer wrote, “I have never in all my days seen anything that so delighted my heart as these things. For I saw amazing objects and I marveled at the subtle ingenuity of the men in these distant lands."