Peru; Ica (?)
Cotton, feathers; H. 8 1/4 in. (21 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.639)
Colorful bird feathers were highly prized items in ancient Peru and textiles covered with them are among the most spectacular and luxurious works made in the Precolumbian world. This miniature feathered dress is one of a large group of similar garments reportedly found in an offering at Ullujaya in the lower Ica Valley in southern Peru. The miniatures are one-fourth to one-third the size of full-sized garments. Since their manufacture follows the conventions used for full-sized male and female garments, technical, constructional, and patterning features allow the distinction between women's dresses or men's tunics to be seen. The women's dresses in the group have a checkerboard design on the front, as seen here. The horizontal openings for head and arms are along the seam at the top. However, since the openings are sewn closed, the miniature dresses were not actual garments that could have been put on statues with arms. The use of such miniature garments in ancient Andean cultures is unclear; they may have been symbolic substitutions in votive contexts.
Feathered textiles were made by specialists. The feathers were tied onto long strings, which in turn were sewn to the plain cotton cloth. The feather tips are often clipped to create sharp outlines, as on this example.