Oct 4, 2013
A fascinating and unique British Museum exhibition: Beyond El Dorado will be opening 17 October 2013 and running until 23 March 2014.
For centuries Europeans were dazzled by the legend of El Dorado – literally ‘the golden one’. Many different stories were told of El Dorado – sometimes it was imagined as a lost city of gold, sometimes as a man covered in powdered gold who plunged into the middle of Lake Guatavita (near modern Bogotá). The exhibition uncovers the fascinating truth behind some of these myths. Unlike in Europe, gold was not valued as currency in pre-Hispanic Colombia. Instead it had great symbolic meaning, facilitating all kinds of social and spiritual transformations. It was one way the elite could publicly assert their rank, both in life and in death.
The exhibition features over 200 fascinating objects from Museo del Oro, Bogotá, and around 100 from the British Museum’s collection. They show technologically advanced and sophisticated goldworking techniques, including the use of an alloy composed of gold and copper, and the use of textiles, feathers, stones and ceramics. These beautiful and detailed works display a level of complex craftsmanship that perfectly marries art and skill, and show the differences in techniques and designs across the region.
Beyond El Dorado, by Elisenda Vila Llonch, is published by the British Museum Press in paperback (£19.99). To look inside the book, visit the British Museum online shop.
Elisenda will be giving a preview of the exhibition and book in her talk at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on Monday 7 October 2013. Visit the festival’s website to book your tickets.
Elisenda’s book expands on the exhibition and looks at the myths and rituals of El Dorado as well as the uses and importance of gold in the northern Andes.
In fact among the cultures of the northern Andes, gold has been revered above all other materials. Gold was believed to be a product of the Sun, the supreme procreator, and as such had special associations with fertility and power. For the people of Colombia, the value of gold lay in the symbolic and transformative properties associated with its colour, aura and malleability and it was used to fashion some of the most visually dramatic and technically sophisticated works of art found anywhere in the Americas before European contact.