Miniature Tunic (Uncu)

Date: 17th–18th century

Geography: Bolivia or Peru

Culture: Potosi (?)

Medium: Cotton, camelid hair, silk, metal

Dimensions: H. 14 1/2 x W. 11 in. (36.8 x 27.9 cm)

Classification: Textiles-Woven

Credit Line: Gift of Penny Righthand, in memory of Richard I. Levine, 2007






Accession Number: 2007.470

Description

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.

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