- Museum number
- Series: The Turquoise Mosaics
Sacrificial knife, in the form of a crouching eagle warrior, with flint blade. Handle made of cedro wood (Cedrela odorata) and covered with mosaic made of turquoise, malachite and three types of shell: white conch (Strombus sp.), thorny oyster (Spondylus princeps) and mother-of-pearl (Pinctada mazatlanica). Pine resin is used as adhesive and decoratively as inlay. The blade hafting is bound with maguey fibre (Agave) and coated with Protium resin.
- Production date
Height: 10.30 centimetres
Length: 32.30 centimetres
Depth: 6.10 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Eagle costumes were worn by prestigous fighters.
In one instance sacrificial knives seemed to be left by Aztec priests as part of an offering to the rain god, Tlaloc.
- On display (G27/dc6)
- Exhibition history
1987-1994, London, Museum of Mankind (Room 1), 'Turquoise Mosaics from Mexico'
2002, London, Royal Academy, Aztecs
2003, Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Aztecs
2005 Sep-Dec, Mechelen, Lamot Heritage Centre, Women of Distinction
2009-2010 24 Sep-24 Jan, London, BM, Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- For details on Christy's purchase of Am,St.399-401, see King et al. 2012. pp. 183-197
This item is part of group of three turquoises (Sacrificial Knife Am St. 399, Mask Am St.400, Human skull Am St.401) acquired by the dealer and collector Bram Hertz (b. c. 1794) and subsequently bequeathed to the Museum by Henry Christy (1810-65) q.v.. An account of the provenance of these objects is given in a letter from Hertz, who had settled in London in the 1830s, dated ‘5 February 1858’ but (Dept of Asia, WWII archive) more probably written in 1859 at a time when Christy was contemplating their purchase at a forthcoming sale. The letter is reproduced in E. Carmichael, Turquoise Mosaics from Mexico (London, British Museum, 1970) p. 37. Hertz published a catalogue of his collection (Hertz, 1851) – possibly the first appearance of the mosaics in print since the 17th century – and in this (Hertz, 1851: iii) reference is made to the collection having been acquired “within the last twenty years”.
The three turquoise items (mask, knife and skull) also appear in the catalogue of Hertz’s first Sotheby’s sale (Sotheby & Wilkinson, 1854) which took place in May 1854. In an annotated sale catalogue in the British Library the group of three mosaics is shown as having been acquired by what appears to be a Mr Roussey or Roussell for 14 guineas (the handwriting is difficult to read). It may be that some of the objects were bought in or were acquired by nominees buying on behalf of Joseph Mayer (1803-86) and a consortium of Liverpool businessmen (Gibson, 1988: 11). The turquoises were still in Hertz’s possession in July 1856 when he wrote to Mayer offering his collection for sale, including “extremely rare” “specimens of Mexican, Chinese and Indian workmanship.” The deal was concluded by 15 January 1857 when removal arrangements were discussed (Liverpool Record Office).
It has been suggested that Mayer may have over-reached himself financially, at all events the three mosaics appeared in the Hertz/Mayer 1859 sale (Sotheby & Wilkinson, 1859: 125-6), were bought by Henry Christy
Hertz states that the mask and the sacrificial knife belonged to “a celebrated collection at Florence”, of which he had forgotten the name, the sale of which, he thought, “took place some twenty odd years ago. Hertz said that he did not acquire the knife and mask direct from Italy but picked them up in London. He writes that the knife came from “Mr Pratts in New Bond Street who brought this also from Venice” – which is a little confusing since in the previous paragraph of his letter he stated that both mask and knife “belonged to a celebrated collection at Florence” . This may be the infamous Samuel Luke Pratt, of 47 New Bond Street, proprietor of an antique furniture business, today particularly remembered for his sales of fake antique armour (Watts, 1992).
The Minute books of the Royal Asiatic Society confirm that the mask and knife were definitely in Hertz’s hands by 28 January 1843 when “a sacrificial dagger, and a turquoise mask” were exhibited by him at a general meeting (RAS, 1854: fol. 124).
See M Caygill, ‘Henry Christy, A W Franks and the British Museum’s turquoise mosaics’ in King et al (eds) Turquoise in Mexico and North America: Science, Conservation, Culture and Collections (2012)
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
CDMS number: Am186?C5.399 (old CDMS no.)