A Divine Primate – Pre-Columbian Artifact I

spider-monkey-02Monkeys – especially spider monkeys – were important to Mesoamerican cultures, and a popular subject for artists creating sculpture, pottery and textiles.  Museums worldwide have examples of these objects in their collections.  Forms range from the realistic to the stylized to the abstract.   Monkeys figured in mythology,  the Aztec calendar includes a monkey, and today, monkey impersonators are a part of religious festivals.  The animals have been respected for their intelligence, and to many, symbolize hope.

The Metropolitan Museum in New York recently added a unique figure to their collection – a seated, stone spider monkey, grasping its tail, and dressed to represent the Aztec Wind God.  The expressive image wears wristlets, anklets, and an intricate neckpiece and earrings.  Dating from c. 1250 – 1521 CE, the sculpture is approximately 16 inches high, and is on display in gallery 358.  The Museo Nacional de Anthropologia, Mexico City, has a stone sculpture of a dancing spider monkey wearing the Aztec Wind God mask.  Found at a Mexico City metro station excavation, the figure is about 24 inches high.

Spider monkeys (family Atelidae) live mainly in the upper canopy of the tropical forests of Central and South America.  Their diet consists of fruits, leaves, flowers and insects.  All seven species are under threat – the black-headed and the brown spider monkeys are critically endangered, as shown on the Red List.


See:  https://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/collection-insights/2018/mesoamerican-art-recent-gifts

Ancient Art of Latin America from the Collection of Jay C. Leff, E. K. Easby, New York: Brooklyn Museum, 1966.

Mythology of the Aztecs and Maya, D. M. Jones, London: Southwater/Anness, 2003/2007.