At first glance, this intricate weaving has no obvious link to a biblical letter about suffering and salvation. Yet its very title invites a closer look.
This work is part of the Alchemies (Alquimias) series created by Colombian artist Olga de Amaral (b.1932). The ancient practice of alchemy had several aims, but its most famous was the quest to turn lead (or other base metals) into gold. The artist has used actual gold—delicate, thin strips of gold leaf—to create her textured piece.
As a symbol, gold is multifaceted; it is widely seen as the most precious of metals and is admired or coveted for its beauty. The use of gold establishes a connection between the ancestral culture of Colombia’s precolonial past and the later adornment of Christian churches after Catholicism arrived with fourteenth-century Spanish colonialists. In some cultures, it is a symbol of immortality; in others, of knowledge. The term ‘golden age’ (derived from Greek mythology) is often used to describe a period of exceptional flourishing or achievement. De Amaral (2003) herself has noted the association of gold with knowledge.
Peter appeals to another common quality of gold in his letter: its ability to be refined through fire (1 Peter 1:7). Because gold has a low melting point, it can be stripped of impurities or other metals in a hot fire. Peter reminds the suffering Christians who receive his letter that their faith is like gold, and their suffering is like a fire. They are being refined through fire, and their faith will be stronger and more genuine because of their suffering. But their faith is unlike gold in another way: gold, although beautiful and long-lasting, is not immortal. It is—ultimately—perishable. Their faith—and the inheritance that awaits them—is, by contrast, imperishable and unfading. Nothing can defile or destroy it.
Of course, De Amaral’s work is not simply a sheet of gold. It is interwoven with small black threads. The gold shimmers behind a veil, indistinct, not fully visible. Likewise, Peter urges the hearers of his letter to rejoice in things they have not yet seen (1 Peter 1:5, 8), to prepare for the divine ‘alchemy’ that will transform their mortal bodies into glorious and imperishable ones (1 Corinthians 15:42–54).
De Amaral, Olga. 2003. ‘The House of My Imagination: Lecture by Olga de Amaral at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 24 April 2003’ (Bogotá: Zona)
Goin, Chelsea Miller. 1998. ‘Textile as Metaphor: The Weavings of Olga de Amaral’, in A Woman’s Gaze: Latin American Women Artists, ed. by Marjorie Agosín (Fredonia, NY: White Pine Press), pp. 54–63
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. 9As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.
10 The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation; 11they inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory. 12It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things which have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.