Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Miniature Tunic (Uncu)

17th–18th century
Bolivia or Peru
Potosi (?)
Cotton, camelid hair, silk, metal
H. 14 1/2 x W. 11 in. (36.8 x 27.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Penny Righthand, in memory of Richard I. Levine, 2007
Accession Number:
Not on view
For several thousand years, a tuniclike shirt known as an uncu was the traditional male garment in the central Andes. Rectangular in shape with seams at the sides and openings at the neck and shoulders, uncus exist in countless versions, from rudimentary to luxurious. Miniature uncus had an equally long history in Peru/Bolivia, where they were sacred and adorned statues and significant natural features such as sacred rocks, called huacas. During Inca times, in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the miniatures were included in ritual offerings. After Spanish rule was established in Peru/Bolivia later in the sixteenth century, uncus continued to be made and worn. Miniature uncus played religious roles such as clothing images of the Christ Child, which would have been the purpose of this example. This small uncu incorporates both native Inca and colonial-era Christian features. The bright colors and floral images suggest that it was used for spring or harvest festivals, and the basic purple color associates it with Inca royalty, as do the central double rows of simplified toqapu. Toqapu are individually conceived geometric designs worked in linear groups that were frequently used on Inca works of art, from textiles to ritual drinking vessels. Their meaning has yet to be deciphered.
(Sotheby's, New York, May 12, 1983, no. 318); Richard Levine and Penny Righthand, Oakland, CA, 1983–2006; Penny Righthand, Oakland, CA, 2006–2007

Related Objects

Hanging (?) Fragment

Date: late 16th–17th century Medium: Camelid hair, cotton Accession: 2011.324 On view in:Not on view

Mantle pin (ttipqui)

Date: 19th century Medium: Silver, paste Accession: 1982.420.12 On view in:Not on view

Four-Cornered Hat

Date: 7th–9th century Medium: Camelid hair Accession: 1994.35.161 On view in:Gallery 357

Border Fragment

Date: 450–175 B.C. Medium: Cotton, camelid hair Accession: 1994.35.120 On view in:Gallery 357


Date: 7th–9th century Medium: Camelid hair, cotton Accession: 1987.394.706 On view in:Not on view