On July 16, the Fabergé Museum
unveiled the latest edition to its collection, almost 100 very rare and exquisite treasures of the ancient peoples of South America the Aztecs, Incas, and Maya. These gold and jade jewelry items pre-date the arrival of Columbus in the Americas, and they are now open to the public for the first time ever. Audiences will certainly be enthralled by both their beauty and nearly one thousand-year history. The fabulous items once decorated royal courts, as well as temples.
These treasures, however, also recall some of the bloodiest pages of world history. The European thirst for gold in the early 16th century saw numerous expeditions set sail for the New World. The Spanish conquistadors were amazed by the wealth and splendour of the indigenous civilizations. Through conquest and coercion, the Spanish amassed huge treasure troves ranging from exquisite gold ritual ornaments to prosaic jewelry. Most were melted down into bullion, and then shipped back to Europe. Pirates working in the service of the British, French, and Dutch kings often preyed on Spanish treasure ships; thus further scattering the treasure around Europe.
The items in the Fabergé Museum collection are among the small number still in existence in Europe. These include jewelry in the form of animals and mystical creatures with jingling balls inside, and an Aztec golden sun, brought from the New World to the palace of the Spanish viceroy in Brussels. There are also figurines of deities made of gold and jade, as well as various pendants and other masterpieces by South American goldsmiths. Of great interest will be a local deity made of Tumbaga alloy.
The methods of pre-Columbian jewelry making are described in the exhibitions catalogue, which describes in great detail the history and art of these ancient civilizations. The books author, Professor Alexander Ivanov, the Fabergé Museums founder, hopes this book will increase our knowledge and understanding of these ancient cultures, and stimulate further research and inquiry into one of the least-known but greatest human civilizations.
Professor Ivanov purchased the collection in 2001 from the heirs of a recently-deceased collector in Amsterdam. That man had spent decades assembling the nearly 100 items, whose value today is estimated at about 70 million euros.
The unveiling of the current exhibition is part of a greater plan to open a Museum of Gold, destined to be the first of its kind in Europe. The Fabergé Museum also owns more than 100 items of Scythian gold jewelry, and numerous Byzantine gold items.
``Together with Fabergé, the Museum of Gold will show the full range of human genius in jewlery manufacture, said professor Ivanov. ``I have great appreciation for the genius and talent of the jewelry masters of the past.