Exhibit Information

Metropolitan Museum of Art

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THE ANDEAN-TUNIC, 400 BCE-1800 CE

Opening: 8 MARCH 2011 - Closing: 18 SEPTEMBER 2011

THE ANDEAN-TUNIC, 400 BCE-1800 CE


This fascinating new exhibition at the Met had very special appeal for Your Roving Arts-Reporter & his Website-Editor, Scott Bennett.

 

We had just returned from the Peruvian-Andes, notably Cuzco & Lake Titicaca, where we not only had the opportunity to see such Tunics in Museums, but also their modern-survivals on the Descendants of the Original-Weavers!

 

But let’s let the Met-Museum’s Press-Department give you an Overview! With some Editorial-Input

 

The Tunic—essentially a type of shirt—had an important cultural-place in Andean-South-America for centuries.

 

Textiles—a much-developed Art-Form in Ancient-Times—were themselves valued as Wealth, & Tunics were among the most-treasured of these Textiles.

 

The Ancient-Peoples of Northwestern-South-America are renowned today for their great abilities as Weavers, Dyers, & Designers-of-Textiles.

 

The Primacy of Cloth was established with the Beginnings of Civilization in the Region that is now Peru, when manipulating fibers into functional, as well as decorated, Fabrics & Fiber-Objects began.

 

Their Multiple-Uses remained integral to Peruvian-Society & invaluable to Peruvian-Peoples, as a Mark of Indigenous-Wealth & Identity, until the 18th-century, long after the advent of European-Authorities & Spanish-Colonists.

 

Among the Textiles produced during those many centuries were Garments. Gender-Specific, the garments generally conformed to Basic-Types.

 

For Men, that meant a Tunic, Mantle, Loincloth, & Head-covering.

 

Tunicsshirt-like-garments, sewn up the sides & open at the neck—were the most significant of them.

 

In fact, Tunics occupied a meaningful-cultural-significance for centuries, as Markers of Prosperity, Place, & Status.

 

The earliest works in the exhibition are two Tunics, dated to the Fourth Century BCE, from the Ica Valley in Southern-Peru.

 

One is of Beige-Cotton, with a pattern of Double-Headed-Serpents. The other is of Camelid-Hair, with a Supernatural-Figure on the rich red-brown-ground. These illustrate the possibilities of Surface, Color, & Design that the two fibers offer.

 

The Cotton-Tunic is its natural hue, as cotton does not dye well, whereas the Tunic of Camelid-Hair—which dyes very well—is splendidly-colored.

 

There are four Andean-Camelids: the domesticated Llama & Alpaca, as well as the wild Vicuña & Guanaco. Their hair was spun into yarn for the making of textiles & fiber-objects of all sorts.

 

In the Andean Altiplano, hundreds of years ago, an impressively red Pucara Tunic with large shoulder-panels [ca.135-525 CE] was as significant a Presence then as it is today. Unusual in structure, the inset Shoulder-Panels are oriented horizontally, with a yellow, red, & blue Face in the center.

 

The Face—which is surrounded by short-rays—may represent a Deity, perhaps that of the Sun. The imagery appears to be an early form of Iconographic-Patterning that, while it changed over time, would nonetheless endure for some centuries.

 

The largest Tunic in the exhibition [ca. 580-680]—with a width of more than five-feet at the shoulder—is thought to have come from Peru’s Arequipa area; it is composed of several horizontal, tapestry-woven, panels, including two with "deconstructed” patterns.

 

The Panels are made-up of proliferating, ribbon-like, elements that do not repeat, reverse, or form-legible-patterns. Yet—without any apparent-organization—the elements are well-balanced, both internally & within the Tunic as a whole.

 

Tunics of this size were probably not worn in life, but were reserved for the wrapping of the Honored-Dead.

 

Northern Tunics differ in shape from those further to the South. They are shorter—only waist-length—most often with Sleeves. Frequently, they also have Elaborated-Surfaces.

 

Those of the Chimu-Kingdom—centered in the Moche-Valley—also had such elaboration, as seen in a very red Tunic that is completely covered with Tassels [ca.1100-1250].

 

The exhibition includes an outstanding work made with an abundance of Camelid-hair, dyed with Cochineal, an intense-colorant extracted from Insects. The Tunic has a number of small, brightly-colored Figures, all but hidden beneath the Red-Tassels.

 

Another Chimu Tunic on-view has an extraordinary Surface: a Gauze-Weave-Cotton, brocaded with Pelicans [ca. 1400-1500]. It is made of finely-spun-cotton & is virtually Transparent.

 

The Pelicans—in profile on the front & back of the Tunic, have a prominent place in Chimu-Imagery. Peruvian-Pelicans are shore-birds, abundant along the Pacific-Coast.

 

The Inkas invaded the Chimu-Kingdom on the Northern-Pacific-Coast late in the 15th-century. They had begun their Conquests in the 1430s, but only a 100 years later—when the Spaniards arrived in Peru—much of Northwestern-South-America had been incorporated into their Empire.

 

Disciplined & focused, the Inka Sense-of-Control can even be seen in their Tunics.

 

Inka-Tunics exist in some numbers today, known in standard-formats of highly-geometric-patterns.

 

An excellent example on-view is a Checkerboard-Pattern [ca. 1460-1540], with a Motif in each square that adds to the complexity of its Visual-Effect.

 

The Motif is an emblem known as Tocapu, one of the Enigmatic-Inka-Symbols elaborated on works of art. This Motif is also present on another Tunic in the exhibition, dating to the 17th-century.

 

The Tunic continued to be worn under Spanish-Colonial-Rule on Special-Occasions. Members of Inka-Royalty & their Descendents had that Privilege.

 

The Red-Yoke & the Tocapu in the ‘V’ & at the waist are Inka-Regal-Symbols, while the Rampant-Felines at the neck are European

 

Incorporating elements of the two Symbolic-Systems—the Andean & the European—emphasized the Social-Status & Importance of the Wearer.

 

By the 1780s, however, such Tunics were feared by Church-Fathers & Colonial-Administrators alike.

 

They had the ability to raise Memories of a Heroic-Inka-Past, so the wearing of Tunics was prohibited.

 

Fortunately for the Native-Indians, the Holy-Roman-Catholic-Inquisition didn’t treat them the way it did Jews & Heretics back in Europe…

 

Except for Atahuallpa, the Last of the Inca-Kings, the Son-of-the-Sun. Conquistador Francisco Pizzaro sought to convert him to the Catholic-Faith, before he executed him.

 

For more detail on this, see Peter Shaffer’s powerful drama, The Royal Hunt of the Sun, based, in turn, on Prescott’s magisterial-study, The Conquest of Peru.

 

This small-scale, but very colorful show is on-view in the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing.

 

Oddly enough, a curious entertainment, The Man Who Ate Michael Rockefeller is also currently on-view, but NOT at the Met.

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