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Press release

The Colonial Andes: Tapestries and Silverwork, 1530–1830

Exhibition dates: September 29 – December 12, 2004
Exhibition location: Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall
Press Preview: September 27, 10:00 a.m. – noon

The arrival of the Spanish in South America in 1532 dramatically transformed the Andean cultural landscape, changing societies that had evolved over thousands of years within less than one generation. The arts, however, continued to thrive amid the upheavals, and an unspoken dialogue evolved between Andean and European artistic traditions. A major exhibition of more than 175 works of art focusing on two uniquely rich and inherently Andean art forms that flourished during the Colonial period – tapestry and silverwork – will open at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 29, 2004. The Colonial Andes: Tapestries and Silverwork, 1530–1830 will present the finest examples of Inca and colonial garments and tapestries, as well as ritual and domestic silverwork, drawn from museums, churches, and private collections in South America, Europe, and the United States.

The exhibition is made possible by Univision Communications Inc., Univision 41, TeleFutura 68 and WCAA 105.9FM, WZAA 92.7FM, WADO 1280AM.

Additional support has been provided by The Reed Foundation.

Philippe de Montebello, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, commented: "This important exhibition represents the Metropolitan's most ambitious exploration of Latin American art since the 1990 exhibition Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries. The works on view in The Colonial Andes represent some of the greatest artistic achievements from the Viceroyalty of Peru – modern-day Peru and Bolivia – many of which have only recently been revealed by archaeological and scholarly advances. Most have never before been exhibited in the United States."

Among the highlights of the exhibition is a group of recently discovered silver objects and little-known tapestries from the 16th and 17th centuries. Among these are a number of unusually detailed silver vessels (including one of a number portraying scenes of 16th-century Andean life) – documenting the transition from Inca to viceregal style – that were recovered from the Spanish fleet vessel Nuestra Señora de Atocha, which was shipwrecked off the coast of Florida in 1622 (Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, Key West, and private collections). The exhibition will also present a tapestry of The Creation of Eve from a rare series, vividly illustrating Old Testament scenes, that was produced by native Andean weavers under the patronage of the Jesuit Order, and that also demonstrates the introduction of European narratives into the culture of the Andes (Círculo de Armas, Buenos Aires).

Beginning with an introduction to the culture of the Inca Empire, the exhibition will show how early Colonial artists integrated aspects of their native traditions with European elements to forge a new artistic vocabulary and to explore new Andean identities. An 18th-century portrait of the cacique don Marcos Chiguan Topa (Museo Inka, Cusco) illustrates how members of the indigenous elite adapted European and Inca symbols of status and identity to reinforce their authority. Dressed in 17th-century European clothing, the subject wears on his forehead a mascaypacha, the scarlet fringe of Inca royalty that became the emblem of native viceregal nobility. At the same time, the painting displays the coat of arms granted to his ancestors by Charles V, as well as the arms of Spain. Garments in the Andes conveyed complex meanings, both in their designs and in the ways in which they were made. The negotiation of personal identity and the integration of Andean heritage within the viceregal society played out in the public sphere, where dress and identity merged. The exhibition will present some of the early transitional garments made in finely woven tapestry, that speak to the complexities of Colonial life, such as Inca-style tunics that integrate European heraldic motifs and highly charged Inca symbols of kingship.

Exquisite metalwork and tapestry reveal how European motifs – in particular, significant elements of Renaissance style – were incorporated into the work of Andean artists and craftsmen. One splendid example that will be on view is a gold "poison cup," retrieved from the Atocha shipwreck. Because of its classic Renaissance design, this drinking cup was at first thought to have been of European origin, but its details indicate that it is the work of a New World silversmith. Beyond the technical mastery it displays, it is remarkable for its intended function: it was configured to hold a bezoar stone, or a deposit formed in the stomach of camelids like llamas and alpacas, that was believed to possess the ability to absorb poisons.

Asian trade goods, coming to the Americas via the Manila Galleons, also triggered the Andean imagination to produce further exotic hybrid works. Among the objects on view will be an Andean tapestry depicting the Christian image of the "Pelican in Her Piety" (Textile Museum, Washington, D.C.), which incorporates Chinese mythological animals and peonies, motifs inspired by silk weavings imported into Peru from Asia. Similarly, a late-18th-century silver perfuming pot in the form of a lion (private collection, Peru) reflects a similar Asian source of inspiration.

The Colonial Andes: Tapestries and Silverwork, 1530-–1830 will also examine 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 ca. 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 Cusco and Puno. Also exhibited will be a later work, a mid-18th-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.

The exuberant mélange of flora, fauna, and local variations of imported Asian and European motifs employed in the liturgical arts also crossed over into secular works, as displayed in superbly crafted silver objects and weavings created for domestic use. On view will be a richly patterned poncho (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), a tapestry-woven garment filled with elaborate floral borders and with musicians woven in silver threads. A beautiful silver "coca box" dating from ca. 1775 (private collection, Madrid) may have been used to hold coca leaves or leaves of yerba mate, which were both brewed as tea. This "Andeanan Rococo"-style box is but one example of the distinctively designed household items dedicated to communal beverage consumption that will be displayed in the exhibition.

The exhibition is organized around a series of themes including issues of Andean identity, cross-cultural influences from Europe and Asia, Christianity in the Andes, viceregal secular style, and memory and transformation. Re-evaluation of Colonial art in recent years celebrates the vital nature of cultural encounters expressed in the art of the period. Colonial paintings, keros (wooden ritual drinking vessels), and works in other media accompanying the tapestries and silverwork provide a contextual presentation of the significance of and transformations within this complex and compelling period of history.

The Colonial Andes: Tapestries and Silverwork, 1530-–1830 is organized by Johanna Hecht, Associate Curator, Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, and Elena Phipps, Conservator, Textile Conservation Department, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with contributions by a roster of international scholars, published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.

This catalogue is made possible by the Chartwell Foundation as a tribute to Univision Communications Inc. for their sponsorship of the The Colonial Andes: Tapestries and Silverwork, 1530-–1830 exhibition.

Exhibition design is by Daniel Kershaw, Exhibition Designer, with graphic design by Constance Norkin, Graphic Designer, and lighting by Clint Ross Coller and Rich Lichte, Lighting Designers, all of the Museum's Design Department. Florica Zaharia, Associate Conservator in Charge of the Textile Conservation Department, is the conservator.

A variety of educational programs will be offered in conjunction with the exhibition, including lectures and gallery talks. A scholarly symposium also will be held at the Museum from October 1 to 3, 2004, and it will be open to the public and free with Museum admission.

The symposium is made possible by the Homeland Foundation.

The symposium is made possible by the Homeland Foundation.

An Audio Guide of the exhibition will be available; the fee for rentals will be $5.00 for members of the Museum, $6.00 for non-members, and $4.00 for children under 12. A Spanish-language version of the Audio Guide will also be available.

The Audio Guide program is sponsored by Bloomberg.

The exhibition will be featured on the Museum's Web site (

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