Art: What the Conquerors Missed

Montezuma, Aztec Emperor of Mexico, is said to have sighed: "The Christians must have a strange disease which only gold can cure." Most jewelry from the era before Columbus went to cure that disease—nearly all of it melted down for shipment to Spain as bullion. The few surviving objects were mostly buried deep in ancient tombs. Last week Mexico's Institute of Anthropology and History announced the discovery of 200 prehistoric gold ornaments in Oaxaca. In Brooklyn, the museum of art opened a small, comprehensive show of pre-Columbian gold, silver and jade from the Americas.

One of the Brooklyn show's best things—a molded...

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