These three ceramic vessels represent the Moche civilization’s finest artistic achievement while offering an invaluable lesson in cultural continuity and vitality. Arguably examples of pre-Columbian America’s greatest art style, these vessels contain naturalistic renderings of everyday creatures and scenes laden with ceremonialism and supernatural imagery. In attempting to interpret these vessels’ complex meaning, contemporary scholars draw analogies to the symbolism of late prehistoric, early historic, and modern Peruvian shamanism on the north coast. G.C.
Embroidered Mantle Fragment
This embroidered mantle fragment offers a spectacular example of prehistoric Peruvian weaving. Inca weavings of this period contain a complexity of detail beyond modern reproduction and are considered among the finest fabrics ever produced. Beyond artistic and technical mastery, these weavings served multiple cultural, social, and practical functions within Andean life between 1438 and 1532. G.C.
Wooden Cup (Kero)
This beautiful wooden cup decorated with lacquer inlay speaks to the persistence of Incan tradition in resistance to Spanish rule. Cups of this kind served as status symbols for the nobles who used them to drink chicha, or Native Andean corn beer. This particular cup depicts the coronation of the Incan emperor Huascar. But the lacquer inlay and the use of chains, opposed to cable, hint at the piece’s post-conquest origin. G.C.
Chimu Litter Backrest
This rare Chimu litter backrest both contains an illustration of and was itself a status symbol. Found at the grave of a Chimu noble in Huarmey Valley, Peru, this backrest physically embodies the connection between social status and different forms of transportation that local hierarchy established and colonial rulers eventually regulated. G.C.
Many questions remain unanswered about Peru’s Nazca culture. But its multicolored, stylistically complex pottery has long fascinated and amazed researchers. The image painted on this vessel, an abstracted, embellished mythical being known as the Horrible Bird, may eventually add to a greater understanding of Nazca beliefs and society. G.C.
'In looking at the arrangement of form and color in the headdress, we can feel the world of the Guiana jungles and see that world through the eyes of the Wayana man who tried to summarize it in this work of art.” —David Maybury-Lewis
Vibrant feathered headdresses were originally made by Wayana men for use during public ritual dances. Today, as Wayana people living along the banks of the Litani, Taponi, Jari, and Paru rivers continue to engage the challenges of cultural adaptation, preservation, and change, this beautiful headdress testifies to traditional Wayana beliefs and practices. D.L.
Small Fetish Figure
This figures shares significant aesthetic similarities characteristic of fetish figures carved in the area around the mouth of the Zaire River (see African fetish figurine). Such figures were endowed with magically meaningful paraphernalia during ritual initiations. Their powers were then evoked for both personal gain and enemy detriment. The two figures’ early date of collection adds to their value as guides to African art and their surprising similarity enlightens discussions of cultural transmigration. M.A.