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The Colonial Andes: Tapestries and Silverwork, 1530–1830

September 29–December 12, 2004

Objects for the Church

The exhibition also examines the art produced by and for the Catholic Church in Peru. The enormous material resources Andean communities dedicated to the embellishment of their churches are evident in the vast quantities of exuberantly patterned silver applied to their decoration, fostering the creation of the Andean Baroque style. An elaborate silver lectern (private collection, Argentina) on view in the exhibition is but one example of Andean ecclesiastical objects. Crafted about 1700, this reading stand would have been placed on an altar to hold the book of scripture from which the officiant reads during the celebration of the Mass. Its simple wooden structure is overlaid with sheet silver densely decorated with a pair of whimsical angels swinging censers from intricately worked chains, all surrounded by abstract strapwork and foliage, typical of the Baroque style in the highlands between Cuzco and Puno. Also exhibited is a later work, a mid-eighteenth-century Eucharistic vessel made of gold, silver, and precious stones in the form of a pelican (Monasterio de Nuestra Señora del Prado, Lima). The theme of the "Pelican in Her Piety," according to legend, plucking flesh from her own breast to nourish her children, was a symbol of Christ's sacrifice, actualized in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. In the Andes, great silver pelicans such as this one were made with chambers in their breasts to contain the Host and were paraded in the processions of Holy Thursday.