Europe’s first knowledge of Peruvian textiles was acquired following the Spanish invasion of Peru in 1532, when the conquistadores included a few fabrics in shipments of gold and silver they sent back to Spain.
None of these early pieces shipped to Europe is known to be preserved, but different European archives still yield detailed descriptions of these products of Peruvian looms, which were the first of their kind to reach Europe. The early Spanish chroniclers, amazed at finding such fine textiles, mentioned in their reports the unusual nature of these cloths, the richness of their colors and the superior quality of their dyes.
Fabrics from Peru, among them many that were made centuries earlier than those admired by the Spanish invaders, have found their way into European and other collections during the past few decades. Although many show designs that seem strange to European eyes, there are among these textiles, produced far from European influences, examples of great elegance and beauty.
The ancient Peruvians left no written records and, as a result, today's knowledge of their culture has been derived almost exclusively from the artifacts and structures which have survived the ravages of time and the destructive tendencies of men. Since textile fibers are among the least durable of materials, these have been preserved only under the most favorable circumstances. In Peru, in the coastal area’s conditions prevailed which were more or less parallel to those of ancient Egypt. Rainfall was almost unknown and mainly due to burial practices, numerous fabrics were left undisturbed in protected locations for long periods of time.
Beginning less than a century ago, scientific excavations of parts of the cemeteries and areas of ancient habitation have made it possible to reconstruct a tentative sequence for pre-Columbian cultural development. This indicates that for some 4,000 years prior to the Spanish conquest, the inhabitants of the western coastal and highland regions of South America produced woven textiles. The earliest so far recovered are of cotton and bast fibers. Later, textiles were made mainly of cotton and wool with some bast fibers and hair used for special purposes.
Cotton in white and several shades of brown is known to have been cultivated in the coastal valleys. Wool came from the native camelids of the highlands, the Llama, Alpaca, Vicuña and Guanaco. No metal threads are known to have been used and there is no evidence to show that either silk or linen (flax) was known. Sheep’s wool was only introduced by the Spaniards upon their arrival in Peru.
Spinning and weaving were highly developed, making it possible to produce fabrics of various textures. These ranged from cloths of great finesse to coarse, heavy pieces for utilitarian purposes, and from open, lace-like types to others of rug-like firmness. The weaving techniques included most of those known to present-day craftsmen, as well as a large number which are not in current use. Of the standard weaves, only satin appears to have been absent. Pile weaves and twill were used sparingly.
Favored types were tapestry, wrap-face stripes in plain and pattern weaves, brocades and damasks, gauzes and double cloths, all of which occur in a number of distinctive forms. In addition to patterning produced during weaving, added bands, borders tassels and fringes were used. Feathers, small plaques of gold and silver, as well as embroidery, served for ornamentation. Patterns were produced also by the tie-die methods and painting.
Many of the weaving practices of ancient Peru cannot be duplicated on today’s looms. The Peruvians made most of their cloths with four selvages, frequently weaving first from one end of the wrap and then the other. They built up one unit of a pattern quite independent of the other units, and put wefts in diagonally or in curves, if they wished. This was possible, since their looms were not equipped with a reed and fixed beater as are modern or European style looms.
All of these types of weaving and ornamentation and numerous other textile making techniques, such as twining, knotting, netting, looping and braiding or plaiting, were known and used in Peru. Long before the Spanish conquest, technical and aesthetic competence had developed to a high level and more important to the reconstruction of the picture of the cultural growth of these people, there were marked local and temporal preferences for certain techniques, designs and colors.
The first scientific excavations, especially those of parts of the cemeteries of Pachacamac, not far from Lima, made it possible to begin mapping out a sequence for Peruvian cultural development. Subsequent work at Pachacamac, at Ancon, and in the Lima valley of the central coastal region, on the Paracas peninsula, in Nazca, Ica, Chincha, and Cañete valleys to the south, and the Chancay, Supe, Chicama, Santa and Moche valley, to the north, among others, has shown a number of fairly distinct styles.
Three of these are generally considered being pan-Peruvian. The earliest of the three was Chavín, a northern style, which is believed to have penetrated far enough to the south to have influenced Paracas designs such as are shown in many of the famous embroidered Peruvian textiles. The second of these was the Tiahuanaco style. This, believed to have had its origin in the southern highlands, spread to the coast where though modifications a distinct Coast Tiahuanaco variant developed. In textiles, this style is seen in many fine Peruvian tapestries, some of which appear quite modern in design.
Later, Inca influence spread over much of Peru, leaving its mark but never completely supplanting the older styles. Inca textiles probably are best known by large poncho-shirts in tapestry with designs consisting of many small squares, and bags with small llama figures. Numerous other styles, some paralleling the above, some intervening, are equally distinctive. Of these, most are believed to have had limited geographical distribution and are known as local styles.
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Chavín Culture Painted Tunic Fragment (900 B.C.), 240 x 56 cm, South Coast of Peru (Amano Museum, Lima)
Chavín Culture Painted Tunic Fragment (900 B.C.), 240 x 56 cm, South Coast of Peru (Amano Museum, Lima).
This fragment thus represents one of the oldest painted images in the art of the Western Hemisphere. Its symmetry is presumably a result of its having been created as part of a tunic, with the shoulder portion represented. The figure carries a snake-like staff in each hand and has snake-like hair under a skull cap. The mouth and eye are banded, and the belt has snake-like appendages. Fill-in images of hooked claws and pointed teeth surround the figure, which closely resembles images found as stone carving in Chavín de Huantar, a highland site many hundreds of kilometers from the locale of this textile. It seems likely that either the textile itself, or the idea for the textile, came rather directly from the highland site. The painting, originally in soft colors, was created on very fine plain weave cotton fabric. The painting style was highly influential, and for the next two and a half millennia, until Peru was conquered, Peruvian painters used the same techniques.
Paracas Culture Embroidered Mantle (600 B.C.), 261 x 146 cm, Paracas Peninsula (National Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, Lima)
Paracas Culture Embroidered Mantle (600 B.C.), 261 x 146 cm, Paracas Peninsula (National Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, Lima).
Most religions have had a fascination with weightless conditions, with flying angels, with heavens, but rarely has the flying weightless condition been portrayed so perfectly as in this Paracas mantle. As the eye travels from one beautifully colored figure to another, their floating quality - their spatial tumbling - begins to move in the mind of the viewer. The mantle was created by embroidery using the stem stitch in alpaca on a ground weave, probably also of alpaca. Each of the figures carries a baton or spear in one hand and a fan in the other, and each has hair which gently streams in the breeze. The baton carrying, horizontally flying figure continues to occur for centuries afterward in Andean textile art, especially in the textiles of Tiahuanaco.
Paracas Culture Neck Border from a Tunic (600 B.C.), 47 x 21 cm, Paracas Peninsula (National Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, Lima)
Paracas Culture Neck Border from a Tunic (600 B.C.), 47 x 21 cm, Paracas Peninsula (National Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, Lima).
The figures within this embroidered neck border are generally feline in form and have long wavy tails; but their most demonic characteristic is the proliferation of trophy heads. One is pendant from the demon’s mouth, one from his tail, another hangs from one of his hands, still another is an earlike emanation from the top of the head. This terrifying creature also contains within the representation of his body a small version of himself. The glaring eyes of the faces transfix the viewer. This neck border was originally part of a tunic which was undoubtedly largely of plain cotton cloth. The embroidery was created in stem stitch using alpaca on a cotton, plain weave ground cloth.
Paracas Culture Embroidered Mantle (600 B.C.), 260 x 155 cm, Paracas Peninsula (National Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, Lima)
Paracas Culture Embroidered Mantle (600 B.C.), 260 x 155 cm, Paracas Peninsula (National Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, Lima).
Paracas mantles are the most dazzling of ancient Peruvian textiles, dazzling both for their technique and for their art. Their clarity brings the viewer into immediate confrontation with the images of a deeply religious and demonic culture. The mantles have two broad style classifications, the color area style and the linear style. This is a portion of a mantle which is a superb example of the linear style. Scholars have pointed out that in the linear style, the bodies of figures have the same colors as the backgrounds, as if to make the images transparent or body-less. Other scholars have observed that the images in the linear style seem to be constant from generation to generation. In this instance, the linear style image of double-headed snakes might possibly represent the name of a family or clan.
Technically, the images are created by embroidery in stem stitch using alpaca threads on a plain weave ground fabric. The colored areas are solid embroidery.
Paracas Culture Tunic Neck Border (600 B.C.), 49 x 21 cm, Paracas Peninsula (National Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, Lima)
Paracas Culture Tunic Neck Border (600 B.C.), 49 x 21 cm, Paracas Peninsula (National Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, Lima).
This neck border is from a Paracas tunic which was of plain weave. The border is in the color area style, in which the figures are represented by color areas set against a neutral background. The figures all carry pointed spears and also carry fans. Viewed from any direction, half of the figures are always upside down, and adjacent to each is a miniature self-image which is always upside down to these main figures. Perhaps the artist’s reference is floating or flying. The exaggerated eyes, hair and mouths, as well as the luminous colors, give the textile a ghostly, spooky aura, but the meaning of the figures is not understood. The construction technique is the same as that used in the linear style; that is, alpaca stem stitch embroidery on plain weave.
Nazca Culture Painted Textile (200 B.C.), 68 x 252 cm, South Coast of Peru (Cleveland Museum of Art)
Nazca Culture Painted Textile (200 B.C.), 68 x 252 cm, South Coast of Peru (Cleveland Museum of Art).
The painted figure illustrated is from an extraordinarily impressive, large painted textile which seems most likely to have been a wall hanging rather than a garment. The style of the painting is early Nazca, and a procession of standing mythological figures is portrayed, with the illustrated one being the most completely preserved. The figure is a mythical being in human form holding in one hand a human trophy head and in the other, a Tumi knife whose use seems readily apparent. The figure also has a gold face mask, a forehead mask, and a spondylus shell necklace. He wears a sleeveless tunic (half of which is spotted) and a loin cloth, and has feline claws, face and tail. In spite of the evident attempt at ferocity, the painting also - perhaps ironically - conveys the appearance of a normal man in an elaborate costume. The technique of the painting is complex and fine line. Its quality, together with its scale, makes this perhaps the greatest painting left to us from ancient Peru. It was created at the height of the prestige and influence of Nazca art, which was a continuation and evolution from the earlier Paracas art. Painted Paracas textiles are, however, technically much simpler, and are essentially line drawings. The ground cloth is of cotton.
Paracas Culture Double-cloth Frontal Figure (200 B.C.), 208 x 65 cm, Ocucaje District / Ica (Private Collection)
Paracas Culture Double-cloth Frontal Figure (200 B.C.), 208 x 65 cm, Ocucaje District / Ica (Private Collection).
This standing figure from the Paracas religious repertoire is in outline almost straightforwardly anthropomorphic. But not in detail, for he has an upside-down image of himself contained within his body outlines, his hair is represented as snakes, and a reflected image of his own face appears above his head. At either side of his legs are cats. Within adjacent rectangles are repeated self-images, each with snake hair and side cats. Two elaborate snakes frame the entire scene.
The textile technique is like a line drawing, and closely resembles Paracas line paintings, but has been created by a weaving construction called double cloth. Two complete plain weaves, one of brown cotton and one of white cotton are woven simultaneously, interpenetrating in such a way that a white figure against a brown background appears on one side, and a brown figure against a white appears on the other side. The construction technique is one which continued for thousands of years afterwards in Peru.
Paracas Culture Ocucaje Tunic (100 A.D.), 82 x 76 cm, Ocucaje District / Ica (Private Collection)
Paracas Culture Ocucaje Tunic (100 A.D.), 82 x 76 cm, Ocucaje District / Ica (Private Collection).
This alpaca tunic is one of a group of tunics found in graves in the Hacienda Ocucaje of the lca Valley in southern Peru. Ocucaje is near Paracas and is considered part of the Paracas culture even though the style of the material is slightly independent. The pattern on the tunic is commonly called a guilloche, but it is reasonable to see the intertwining, stepped lines of the design as representing a pair of intertwining threads. The great importance of textile construction to the people of Paracas and their absorption in the technology of weaving makes such an interpretation possible.
Like the pattern of the design, the tunic is constructed using a double thread. The tunic was not woven on a loom, but was made by simple looping, a technique which was even then 2,000 years old. The fringe is probably vicuna.
Early Chimú Culture Tapestry (100 A.D.), 22 x 18 cm, Chicama Valley in the La Libertad Region (Amano Museum, Lima)
Early Chimú Culture Tapestry (100 A.D.), 22 x 18 cm, Chicama Valley in the La Libertad Region (Amano Museum, Lima).
This fragment of tapestry contains the representation of a very complex mythological scene, full of hints about the Chimú culture. The main figure, which faces us and is wearing a striped headdress array, is portrayed on a small platform in front of a temple porch which has a diamond-patterned roof. The temple has side wings, which also have diamond-patterned roofs. The central figure wears a tunic with three varieties of weaving patterns represented within it, and wears as a special neckpiece a double-headed serpent, and a scarf with large tassels. On the very right edge of the textile, a portion of an “X” shaped vertical loom is represented, with several bobbins below it. On the left side of the textile, two helpers are represented, one holding a bobbin.
Because of all the textile construction imagery, it seems reasonable to view this representation as that of a mythological figure which is associated with weaving. The textile itself, though not of fine construction, is of slit tapestry with twined weft reinforcing in the open work (a most unusual construction). The weft is alpaca and the warp is cotton.
Nazca Culture Warp-weft Interlock Mantle (400 A.D.), 200 x 80 cm, Ica Valley (Amano Museum, Lima)
Nazca Culture Warp-weft Interlock Mantle (400 A.D.), 200 x 80 cm, Ica Valley (Amano Museum, Lima).
The color intensity in this textile occurs because both the warp and weft, within a given part of the design, are of the same color. Each of the areas of the design is, in effect, a separate piece of cloth which has its edges interlocked with the adjacent parts. The technique is one which had a very long history, but pieces such as this one in a late Nazca style are among the most brilliant ever produced.
Huarmey Culture Tapestry Square (600-900 A.D.), 80 x 79 cm, Huarmey Valley, Ancash Region in Peru (Amano Museum, Lima)
Huarmey Culture Tapestry Square (600-900 A.D.), 80 x 79 cm, Huarmey Valley, Ancash Region in Peru (Amano Museum, Lima).
This alpaca tapestry square is the large decorative neck border of a tunic from the Huarmey culture. To be understood, it should be viewed as folded in half on the diagonal, forming a “V” neck front and back. The remainder of the tunic was undoubtedly of plain cotton. Both the black outlining of the design and the hook pattern came from the Mochica culture far north of the Huarmey Valley. The optical pleasure of the design depends upon the figure/ground reversal of the hook patterns. The technique of construction is slit tapestry with alpaca weft and cotton warp.
Huari (Wari) Culture - Tiahuanacoid Tunic (600-1000 A.D.), 105 x 210 cm (Amano Museum, Lima)
Huari (Wari) Culture - Tiahuanacoid Tunic (600-1000 A.D.), 105 x 210 cm (Amano Museum, Lima).
This fine tapestry tunic has been opened up so that the design of both the front and back can be seen at once. It is constructed of interlocked tapestry in two long panels which were woven separately. The design consists of winged figures, carrying staffs and wearing elaborate headdresses. The sixteen figures represented are in alternating colors of blue, pink, or tan against a red background, with the design bands separated by striping. These figures appear to be running or kneeling when viewed with the stripes vertical. As they were in the artist/weaver’s loom, the figures are seen to be horizontal flying figures.
Flying divinities seem to have been very important in the highland culture of Tiahuanaco, Bolivia, and their representation in various forms was carried over to the Huari (Wari) culture of central Peru. The quality of the weaving and the nearly abstract representations of the gods make these highland tapestry tunics seem to be the most sophisticated and urbane of all pre-Columbian textiles. The weft is alpaca; the warp is probably cotton.
Huari (Wari) Culture - Tapestry Tunic (800-1000 A.D.), 105 x 105 cm, South Coast of Peru (Regional Museum of Ica)
Huari (Wari) Culture - Tapestry Tunic (800-1000 A.D.), 105 x 105 cm, South Coast of Peru (Regional Museum of Ica).
This nearly complete Huari (Wari) tapestry tunic has been placed on a mummy mannequin to simulate the conditions of burial. Huari tunics are usually found like this as the outer surface of a mummy bundle, which contains the wrapped and shrouded deceased inside. In Huari burials the mummy is usually in a seated position, presumably for religious reasons. One of the important pieces of evidence for the existence of extensive Huari influence all over Peru during the Middle Horizon is the fact that burial patterns changed during this period, with the seated position replacing in popularity the older horizontal one.
This tunic design is composed of a single rectangular design which is repeated with left and right versions and with mirror images of each of these and with color variations. The basic design itself contains a condor head, a puma head, a corn plant, and a human trophy head, all connected by a stepped fret design. The tapestry construction is of the interlocked variety, as is most highland tapestry. The weft is of alpaca. Probably this tunic was made somewhere in the highland centers of the Huari culture but buried on the coast with its highland decedent.
Huari (Wari) Culture Four-pointed Pile Hat (800-1000 A.D.), 16 16 x 16 cm, Palpa, Nazca Valley (Amano Museum, Lima)
Huari (Wari) Culture Four-pointed Pile Hat (800-1000 A.D.), 16 16 x 16 cm, Palpa, Nazca Valley (Amano Museum, Lima).
Huari (Wari) graves found in the southern coastal areas of Peru sometimes contain elaborately attired mummies wearing pile hats like this one or wearing head- bands. Both this pile hat tradition and the headband tradition date back to Tiahuanaco, the predecessor culture to Huari. The pile of the hat is of dyed alpaca wool with individual tufts secured during the construction of a knotted cotton base fabric, visible here in worn areas. Huari ceramic and turquoise carved figures are often represented wearing these little square hats, which strike us as appearing pious like a kippah or skull cap. The design is of abstracted birds in alternating colors, separated by a row of diamonds. Both motifs are characteristically found on these hats.
Huari (Wari) Culture Tapestry Tunic (800-1000 A.D.), 213 x 98 cm, South Coast of Peru (Amano Museum, Lima)
Huari (Wari) Culture Tapestry Tunic (800-1000 A.D.), 213 x 98 cm, South Coast of Peru (Amano Museum, Lima).
This classic Huari (Wari) tunic has been opened so that both sides may now be seen. The tunic is illustrated here with the opened-up long dimension shown horizontally. This is as each long half was seen in the loom when the weaver was working. However, after completion of the weaving, and joining the two panels, the textile was folded, the sides were sewn up, leaving sleeve openings. It was then turned 90° for use as a tunic.
The apparent pattern complexity is the result of carefully manipulated color variations of a basic repeated pattern. That pattern consists of a rectangular design which is diagonally divided into two images - one is a profile face; the other is a step and wave pattern. This two-part pattern is repeated thousands of times in Huari art, and no doubt had an important symbolic meaning. But each repeat is slightly different. The role of the design may have been comparable to flags in our culture, but in Huari culture every flag was individualized by the artist/weaver. Technically, these tunics are created by interlocked tapestry using alpaca for weft, and using sometimes cotton, sometimes alpaca for warp.
Chancay Culture - Chimú Tapestry Panel with Figures and Centipedes (1200-1300 A.D.), Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima)
Chancay Culture - Chimú Tapestry Panel with Figures and Centipedes (1200-1300 A.D.), Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima).
This tapestry fragment has characteristics which identify it with the Chimú and Mochica cultures of the north of Peru, though it was excavated in the Chancay Valley of central Peru. Such out-of-place finds are sometimes called “trade goods,” though we, in this case, have no evidence that the exchange was commercial. It may also suggest that some special site in the Chancay Valley received foreign offerings.
The design consists of square panels which are surrounded by seated figures, reminiscent of the “helper” figures found on Mochica ceramics. Within the panels are frontal figures, each with skirt and headdress, having above and below giant double-headed centipedes. In the later painted textiles from the Chancay Valley, the centipede in the sky becomes arched and resembles a rainbow. The four fragmentary faces in the corners of each panel design are reminiscent of the corner guardian figures in Mochica textiles. The technique is slit tapestry, with alpaca weft and cotton warp.
Chimú Culture Gold Appliqued Tunic (1200-1400 A.D.), Length 149 cm, North Coast of Peru (The Gold Museum, Lima)
Chimú Culture Gold Appliqued Tunic (1200-1400 A.D.), Length 149 cm, North Coast of Peru (The Gold Museum, Lima).
Although this astonishing tunic looks remarkably like a modern disco special, it presumably was the serious attire of an important Chimú leader. Gold seems to have had exactly the same connotations in the pre-Columbian world as it has in the Western world, and the Chimú kings accumulated vast quantities of it. When the king died, most of his wealth was buried with him, and his burial mound and associated facilities were endowed for perpetual care. These burial mounds were gradually abandoned during Inca times, and have been almost continuously looted since the Spanish conquest. This glittering, golden shirt was probably part of such a royal treasure. Each of the approximately seven thousand golden squares are separately fastened.
Chancay Culture House of Dolls (1200-1400 A.D.), 29 x 45 x 27 cm, Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima)
Chancay Culture House of Dolls (1200-1400 A.D.), 29 x 45 x 27 cm, Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima).
One of the most charming textile constructions to come from the Chancay culture is this beautifully preserved house model with its eight richly colored dolls. Two central figures at the rear appear to be male and female, and the figure on the right holds a cup, suggesting the libations at a marriage ceremony. Both the facial painting of the figures and the patterning of the outside of the house provide a representation of Chancay Valley life, giving color and vitality to our images of this vibrant and productive central coast pre-Columbian culture. One of the figures at the rear wears a bird-patterned tapestry tunic, and several have gauze shawls, all closely resembling actual recovered textiles.
Chancay Culture Doll Faces Tapestry (1200-1400 A.D.) Amano Museum, Lima
Chancay Culture Doll Faces Tapestry (1200-1400 A.D.) Amano Museum, Lima.
Most cultures of the world produce painted or carved doll faces, but the weaving oriented Chancay culture of Peru produced these custom woven faces for dolls. The facial pattern suggests that facial painting is being represented, and there is some evidence to suggest that this particular zig-zag pattern is found only on female faces. The textile construction is of slit tapestry with alpaca weft and cotton warp and it was made on a miniature back strap loom.
Chimú Culture Tasseled Red Tunic (1200-1400 A.D.), 58 x 162 cm, Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima)
Chimú Culture Tasseled Red Tunic (1200-1400 A.D.), 58 x 162 cm, Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima).
This highly decorated tunic actually came from the Chancay Valley, although its characteristics are typical of what we know of late Chimú fancy tunics. The tunic demonstrates the close relationship which existed between these two culture areas. It is tapestry construction with intermittent structural wefts and with supplemental tassels and textile discs. The weaving method for the discs remains a mystery, though they apparently have spiral warp and radial weft. The variety of techniques and the brilliant red dye make this one of the most extravagant textiles known from the Chancay Valley, and it is one of only a few such tunics in existence. Whether its use was religious or secular, or both, we do not know, but it is clear that the purpose was to overwhelm the viewer, a task which it continues to fulfill to this day.
Chancay Culture Gauze with Triangular Patterning (1200-1400 A.D.), 78 x 85 cm, Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima)
Chancay Culture Gauze with Triangular Patterning (1200-1400 A.D.), 78 x 85 cm, Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima).
This brown cotton gauze has been structurally designed during the weaving process by manipulating the warps, creating patterns of alternating gauze weave. The wefts are spaced regularly throughout the whole design. After the weaving was completed, the textile was pattern dyed with a resist technique - probably tie dye.
Chancay Culture Open Fabric with Tapestry-like Design (1200-1400 A.D.), 40 x 28 cm, Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima)
Chancay Culture Open Fabric with Tapestry-like Design (1200-1400 A.D.), 40 x 28 cm, Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima).
This gauze weave has a design produced by extra-weft interlacing using two different colors. The design consists of pelican-like bird profiles, a frequent figure in Chancay textiles, and a reasonable one, since the center of the Chancay culture was very close to the Pacific shore. The textile is entirely of cotton.
Chancay Culture Checkerboard Tapestry (1200-1400 A.D.), 237 x 203 cm, Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima)
Chancay Culture Checkerboard Tapestry (1200-1400 A.D.), 237 x 203 cm, Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima).
Although there is no archaeological evidence that textiles were ever used as wall hanging in the Pre-Colombian world of Peru, the size and technical characteristics of certain pieces strongly suggest that possibility. This enormous tapestry, with little paired figures all facing the same way, suggests that its use may have been as a wall hanging, but does not actually rule out use as a shoulder shawl or mantle. The alternating squares of the paired figures and of the doubled geometric pattern suggest some kind of interlocking meaning. The top and bottom borders have cats and birds, interacting natural enemies, then as now.
The tapestry of alpaca weft and cotton warp was woven in ten separate matched panels, in slit tapestry technique, and implies a well-organized group effort, rather than individual artistic genius.
Chancay Culture Tapestry Coca Bag (1200-1400 A.D.), 18 x 15 cm, Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima)
Chancay Culture Tapestry Coca Bag (1200-1400 A.D.), 18 x 15 cm, Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima).
Coca bags have been a normal part of the wearing apparel of the native Peruvian male from the Early Horizon to today. The bags, suspended by straps from the shoulder, are used for carrying coca leaves, which are chewed with lime as a mild stimulant. The design of the coca bag is an important male status symbol today, and no doubt always was. Very early coca bags had suspended from them miniature representations of human trophy heads, and tassels such as those attached to this coca bag are no doubt derived from that tradition. The face and its associated wave geometry may also be related to that trophy head tradition.
The colors of pink and yellow are traditional ones for Chancay. Construction is slit tapestry with alpaca weft and cotton warp.
Chancay Culture Bird Tapestry Panel (1200-1400 A.D.), 70 x 107 cm, Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima)
Chancay Culture Bird Tapestry Panel (1200-1400 A.D.), 70 x 107 cm, Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima).
This panel of slit tapestry with animal figures is one of the most characteristic works produced for the grave goods of the Chancay Valley. Its pink background is the dominant color of all Chancay textiles, and the yellows, tans, blacks and whites are the normal secondary ones. The repeated patterning, with only slight color variation and with no formal variation, is also characteristic. In earlier centuries Peruvian weavers of most cultures had much greater coloristic and formal variation in repeated pattern work, the exception being the Mochica culture of the north.
The pattern here represents, as dominant, the strutting bird with a royal headdress, holding a frog in his beak. Beneath is a row of monkeys holding staffs - normally symbols of authority in Peruvian art. Technically, the construction is of slit tapestry with alpaca wefts and cotton warps.
Chancay Culture Face-patterned Double-cloth (1200-1400 A.D.), 101 x 60 cm, Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima)
Chancay Culture Face-patterned Double-cloth (1200-1400 A.D.), 101 x 60 cm, Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima).
This panel of repeat patterned double cloth was constructed with two complete sets of warp and weft, one brown set and one white set. The two layers are woven simultaneously and interpenetrate to form the pattern, which has a color reverse on the other side. The pattern itself is an abstract two-eyed fish face with the background and the figure of identical form, so that optical figure/ground reversal occurs.
The earliest recorded interlocking patterns of this type are from the textiles of the Gallinazo (Virú) culture of the North coast and are a thousand years older than this Chancay textile.
Chancay Culture Sleeved Tunic (1200-1400 A.D.), 45 x 55 cm, Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima)
Chancay Culture Sleeved Tunic (1200-1400 A.D.), 45 x 55 cm, Chancay Valley (Amano Museum, Lima).
This boldly designed sleeved tunic uses alternating colors to create a form of figure/ground reversal art. The iconography consists of a wave pattern, which might represent the ocean, a step pattern, which might represent the mountains, and double-headed mythical birds. These three elements are frequently found in Chancay art and suggest the possibility that land, sea and air were aspects of the Chancay weavers’ cosmos.
The weaving is slit tapestry using dyed alpaca wefts and cotton warps. The color variations within solid color areas are created by slightly differing weft dye lots, which seem to be a very purposeful part of the artist/weaver’s conception. One sleeve is now missing. The proportions of the tunic are such that perhaps it should be referred to as a “shoulder tunic”.
Chimú Culture Tapestry Tunic with Golden Spangles (1200 A.D.), 50 x 118 cm (Los Angeles County Museum)
Chimú Culture Tapestry Tunic with Golden Spangles (1200 A.D.), 50 x 118 cm (Los Angeles County Museum).
It may see unnecessary to our eyes to have added the gold to this tawny-toned tapestry tunic, such is the charm of the tapestry design itself, but perhaps the gold carries status which no textile design could equal. The representation is a row of trees with monkeys in the limbs above plucking fruit for the aide below who holds the bag. This lighthearted genre scene hardly seems compatible with the weight and seriousness of the gold with which it is underlined. The figures at the bottom row are probably cats.
The technique of the textile is slit tapestry with alpaca weft and cotton warp, with the golden-toned autumn colors which are characteristic of the fabrics from the north coast of Peru.
Inca Culture Warp-patterned Tunic (1600-1600 A.D.), 70 x 108 cm, South Coast of Peru (Private Collection)
Inca Culture Warp-patterned Tunic (1400-1600 A.D.), 70 x 108 cm, South Coast of Peru (Private Collection).
This multi-colored, striped tunic was probably made during Inca times, but it is not one of the official Inca tunics. It is a warp-faced and warp-patterned textile - a construction technology which continues in the highlands of Peru to this day. The patterned stripes use two-color complementary warp patterning, and the plain stripes are simply warp-faced. The zig-zag selvedge binding on the right is characteristic of Late Horizon tunics, but the grouping of the stripes into three bands on each side seems reminiscent of the arrangement of earlier Middle Horizon tunics. The arrangement of colors in stripes is an ancient highland weaving art and achieves great vibrancy and luminosity in this tunic, which may have been made in the highlands but was eventually buried on the coast. The warps are alpaca.
The study of Peruvian textiles has lagged behind that of ceramics and other comparatively durable materials. For the latter, both developmental sequences and original geographic distribution is as expected more complete, and thus their study more rewarding from an archaeological viewpoint. Unfortunately, much field work has been done by researchers lacking textile competence, resulting in inadequate textile records and reports from some of the more important excavations. Generally, only archaeologists trained in France or Germany had the required textile knowledge.
Fortunately, the earliest, as well as some of the most recent investigations have been made by representatives of these two schools and in these cases excellent textile records have been kept. Further, little of the available information concerning Peruvian fabrics has been assembled and published. Much that might be known of the treasures saved from the oblivion of Peruvian grave fields, is still buried in library and museum archives and storage rooms of Europe, Asia and both North and South America. A much greater quantity of wholly undocumented materials remains in other collections, both institutional and private, and many of these are inaccessible to students, research workers and the public in general.
Despite Peruvian laws designed to halt the wholesale desecration of the ancient cemeteries and the unlimited exportation of textiles and other treasures constituting Peru's valuable native heritage, a great many artifacts continue to find their way into the hands of dealers both inside and outside of Peru.
Some of these items were collected many years ago, before restrictions were imposed; some have been salvaged during recent non-archaeological activities, such as construction and road works; others represent materials gathered secretly by locals and later offered sales to tourists and traders. For all of these non-scientific collections, only the most meager information is recoverable.
Frequently only the general area from which the items came is known or revealed. Regardless of this lack of archaeological or historical information, the technical and aesthetic importance of these fabrics is expanding. The textiles of ancient Peru continue to increase in value and attract worldwide interest. The variety of the fabrics produced is endless; their intricacy defies description; and the colors and patterns make many of them fantastic conversation pieces.
It is unbelievable that such extravagant fabrics could have been produced without the aid of complex mechanical apparatuses. Yet this lack of a fixed mechanical loom set-up made it possible for the weaver to work with great freedom of both technique and design, These Peruvians developed skills which have never been surpassed and design traditions quite distinct from those of Europe and the Classical cultures of the Old World.
Many Peruvian textiles are so well known as they have been shown in numerous museum exhibits and found their way into publications worldwide. They form a fundamental part of the Peruvian culture, are even today seen as part of local traditions, and the characteristic clothing represents the different regions of the country.