In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pre-Hispanic Art of Colombia

  • Introduction
  • Amazonas and Eastern Tropical Lowlands
  • Colonial Continuities and Modern Legacies

Art History Pre-Hispanic Art of Colombia
Alessia Frassani
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 March 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0078


The art history of Pre-Hispanic Colombia hardly exists. Western categories for what may constitute “art” only partly fit ancient Colombian material culture, which stands out for its exceptional developments in metallurgy. The lack of monumental archaeological sites (with the exception of San Agustín, Tierradentro, and Ciudad Perdida) to some extent accounts for the archaeologists’ relative lack of interest in ancient Colombia, especially on an international level. The disproportionate amount of scholarly attention granted to the study of metalwork can only partially be attributed to the outstanding craftsmanship of ancient Colombian goldsmiths. Western fascination with El Dorado and modern capitalist economies have fueled an insatiable desire to own offerings, jewels, and ritual paraphernalia of the ancient Colombian civilizations, resulting in massive looting at the expense of heritage preservation. The vast majority of gold and ceramic pieces have no known provenance, and stylistic features are largely the elements that define archaeological cultures, while geographic location, extent, and historical development remain unknown. With systematic archaeological information available only for some regions, Colombia’s pre-Hispanic past still remains a puzzle. Perhaps for this very same reason, ethnographic analogies, regardless of geographical and historical specificities, are quite commonly applied to the symbolic interpretation of ancient objects. Finally, national borders often cut the ties ancient Colombian civilizations maintained with other peoples from the Andean region, Central America, and the vast Amazon basin, as evidenced by material remains and contemporary cultural continuities. Few primary and secondary sources are available in English; Spanish (mostly Colombian) studies tend to be brief and in the form of articles, with little or no attempt to create a general narrative for the cultural-historical development of ancient art. (The author wishes to acknowledge Mr. Isaías Morales for his valuable assistance with the development of this article.)

General Overviews

Historical sources, archaeological studies, and collections catalogues constitute the foundation for understanding ancient Colombian art and its context. Publications on major issues regarding heritage conservation and interpretation are also necessary for understanding the peculiarity of ancient Colombian art historical studies.

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