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Polychrome Shell Pendant

This shell, a beautiful example of Post-Classic Mesoamerican painting, is appealing for both its miniature size and the vividness of the depiction. Throughout Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, marine shells were luxury items, traded from both the Gulf and Pacific coasts and presented by coastal peoples as tribute to inland powers. Seashells were prized in their natural form, transformed into trumpets and vessels, incised or painted for ritual use or to increase their prestige value, and cut into plaques, beads, and pieces for inlay. While the narrative remains obscure, scholars have suggested the scene may depict the collection of tribute, or, alternatively, an interaction involving a woman (in the cloak) and the fire god Xiuhtecuhtli.

Mixteca-Puebla style, Mexico
Polychrome Shell Pendant
Late Post-Classic period, 1200–1521
Marine shell, pigment
H. 2 ½ in. (6.3 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 80.65