This spoon-shaped pin was used to secure a woman’s shoulder cloth or mantle. The bowl of the spoon features an engraved image of a bird, its beak open as if in song, perched on a plant with a four-petal flower, s-shaped stem, two buds, and two leaves. Short engraved lines around the edge of the bowl act as a border. A few sinuous engraved lines on the shoulder of the pin delineate a stem and leaf, and a green, faceted paste (leaded glass) gem serves as the plant’s blossom. The gem is held in place by nine prongs. Two small and one large loop on either side of the shoulder further draw the eye to this part of the pin. A decorative chain or chains, as in another example in the Metropolitan’s collection (1982.420.10), may have at one time been attached to these loops. Further stimulating the eye is the stippled texture, achieved through the use of a special hammer or rolling tool, applied to the shoulder and the loops. The shaft of the pin tapers to a point.
Archaeological and other evidence confirm that Andean women have used stick pins to secure and decorate their clothing since at least the early first millennium AD. Women inserted large pins, called tupus in Quechua (one of the indigenous languages of the Andes), into their untailored, wrap-around dresses (acsus) at the chest, just below the shoulders, with the pointed ends facing up, to hold the garment in place. Tupus were worn in pairs, and each pin was connected to its counterpart with a chain or cord. Women used a single smaller pin, called a ttipqui, to secure their mantles (llicllas), which were worn draped across the back and around the shoulders, the ends meeting and overlapping across the chest; the ttipqui was inserted diagonally into the cloth to hold the lliclla in place. Guaman Poma de Ayala, a native Peruvian born shortly after the Spanish invasion of the Inca Empire, included illustrations of Inca women wearing both types of pins in his manuscript, Nueva corónica y buen gobierno, completed in 1615 and now in the Danish Royal Library (GKS 2232 quarto).
It can be difficult to distinguish tupus from ttipquis. The former are often larger than the latter, though they can also be comparable in size. While pairs of tupus were regularly attached to each other with chains or cords, many surviving examples have lost these elements. Further confusing the matter, decorative chains were sometimes attached to viceregal (1542-1824) and Republican (post-1824) ttipquis. Subtle clues, however, can help to distinguish the two types of pins. The presence of a small hole where the shaft meets the head of an Inca garment pin indicates that it was intended to be used as a tupu: a chain would have been strung through the hole to connect it to its partner. Moreover, since tupus are worn with the pointed ends of the shafts facing up, the orientation of the figural and floral designs on post-contact pins can help, in turn, to orient us. Here, the bird-and-flower design is right-side-up only when the pointed end of the pin faces down, making it clear that the object is a ttipqui.
The finest Precolumbian tupus and ttipquis were made of locally extracted and smelted gold and silver, though other metals, including copper and bronze, were also used. The heads of Inca pins were often hammered into flat circular or oval discs, as in two gilt silver pins in the Metropolitan’s collection (64.228.702-703). Other geometric and figural shapes, such as birds and monkeys, were also common across the ancient Andes (see, in the Metropolitan’s collection, 64.228.613-626, 1987.394.601-602, 1974.271.39, and 1987.394.549).
After the Spanish invasion in the 1530s, Andean women continued to use pins to secure their garments, though clothing and pin styles changed, as did metalworking techniques. In many regions acsus were gradually replaced by European-style blouses and skirts. Llicllas, however, survived and are still worn by many Andean women today. While the function of garment pins has thus been consistent across the pre- and post-invasion periods, pins from the latter era are most often used as ttipquis. Garment pins also appear a variety of new shapes, including spoons, shells, flowers (1982.420.12), suns, and large birds such as peacocks, turkeys, and eagles (1982.420.10). Some nineteenth-century pins, known as picchis, are associated with Aymara communities in the Lake Titicaca region; they have very short shafts, heads often executed in the round, and pendants in the shape of fish with articulated bodies (see, for example, the collection of pins at the Museo de Arte de Lima, Peru).
Post-invasion pins are predominantly made of silver, using some techniques, like engraving, that were rarely employed for ancient Andean pins. In addition, they often feature European-style decorations and imagery, such as floral and vegetal designs, interlace, scrolls, mermaids, human figures, and faceted stones and paste gems. The latter, made from molded or cut leaded glass, were especially popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in both Europe and the Americas. Although less costly than precious gemstones, the finest paste gems were of a very high quality and were highly valued.
The floral and avian decoration of this pin betrays European influence. For an indigenous Andean woman, however, the four petals of the engraved flower may have evoked the four suyus, or geographic and cultural regions, of the Inca Empire, Tahuantinsuyu. The shape of the pin has also been associated with veiled resistance to Spanish rule. In in the wake of indigenous-led rebellions in the Cuzco and the Lake Titicaca regions in the early 1780s, viceregal authorities moved to prohibit native Andeans from wearing clothing and designs associated with the Incas. Scholars have suggested that some garment pins subsequently took the form of an innocuous-seeming spoon as a way to subvert the authorities. However, spoon-shaped pins proliferated in the nineteenth century, after the collapse of Spanish rule in the Andes. By then, the spoon shape may have simply become a popular style, though one that spoke to the complicated history of indigenous populations in the region.
Kate E. Holohan, 2016
Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas
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