Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Feathered Hanging

7th–8th century
Feathers on cotton, camelid hair
H. 31 7/8 x W. 87 x D. 19 in. (81 x 221 x 48.3 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
Not on view
Peruvian feathered textiles are among the most luxuriant fabrics produced in the ancient Americas. Unique in the soft texture of their plumed surfaces, these works were made up of row upon row of bird feathers. In order to cover the base fabric completely the feathered strings were sewn--layer by layer--onto the plain cotton backing cloth. The plumage of birds from the tropical rain forests of the Amazon basin was the source of the brilliant blues, yellows, greens and reds that cover the surfaces of many ancient Peruvian textilles. The feathers used on these hangings for instance, are the body feathers of the Blue-and-yellow Macaw, a bird of the very colors upon which the grid pattern of the hangings depends. The number of small body feathers used in these large hangings was enormous. While the majority of the hangings are feathered in blue and yellow quadrants, single color examples are known, among them those that are completely yellow. There are reports of rare Feathered Hangings Exhibited here are nine large Peruvian hangings, hung in three groups of three. Each hanging is covered with parrot feathers and divided into equal quadrants of blue and yellow. The feathers are the body feathers of the Blue-and-yellow macaw, a tropical bird that inhabits South America's Amazonian rain forests. The hangings were accidently discovered in 1942, reportedly in a cache that included ninety-six similar feathered textiles. They were found in large ceramic jars near the Ocona River on Peru's southern Pacific coast. News of such a significant discovery reached the local newspapers and various descriptions of the find were published at the time. The hangings have been dated by a scientific method, known as radiocarbon dating, to about the turn of the eighth century. It is thought that such textiles were originally used to decorate the walls of important outdoor compounds or courts for special occasions. Lining the adobe walls of the great ancient compounds, the blue and yellow feathered hangings would have glowed in the light, enriching any official proceedings, adding an aura of opulence and grandeur.
[Louis Slavitz, New York, until 1956]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1956, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1956–1978

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