Exhibition | Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and Moon

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on January 18, 2013

Press release (26 October 2012) from the MMFA:

Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and Moon: Identities and Conquest
in the Early, Colonial and Modern Periods
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2 February — 16 June 2013
Seattle Art Museum, 17 October 2013 — 5 January 2014

Curated by Victor Pimentel


Mochica, North Coast, possibly La Mina, Forehead ornament with feline head and octopus tentacles ending in catfish heads (100 – 800 A.D.), Gold, chrysocolla, and shells. 28.5 x 41.4 x 4.5 cm (Museo de la Nación, Lima. Photo: Daniel Giannoni)

Organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine ArtsPeru: Kingdoms of the Sun and Moon will display an extensive collection of pre-Columbian treasures and masterpieces from the colonial era to Indigenism, including over 100 pieces that have never before been seen outside of Peru. With more than 350 works of art (paintings, sculptures, gold and silver ornaments, pottery, photograph, works on paper, and textiles) on loan from public and private collections in Peru, Canada, United States, France, and Germany, this exhibition covers roughly 3,000 years of history, including archaeological discoveries in recent decades.

“In conceiving this exhibition on the question of identity in Latin America following our exhibition Cuba! Art and History from 1868 to today presented in 2008, I was fascinated to discover the extent to which archaeology has revealed this birthplace of civilization – one of six such in the world – only recently in the course of the 20th century” explains Nathalie Bondil, Director and Chief Curator of the MMFA. “This exhibition demonstrates how the retrospective view of history shifted from a colonial interpretation to a new nationalist feeling in the course of the modern era. This complex project brings together numerous loans, both public and private, from Peru, some of which have not been exhibited before. Above all, the display features paintings of the era subsequent to the Spanish Conquest and, for the first time outside Peru, of the Indigenist period after independence. The constant elements of a civilization built up over millennia open up perspectives never before opened,” she added.

Young Virgin Spinning

Anonymous, Cuzco School, Virgen Niña Hilando (Young Virgin Spinning), second third of the 18th century, oil on canvas, gold leaf. 112.5 x 80.5 cm
(Lima: Museo Pedro de Osma. Photo: Joaquín Rubio)

Mythical Peru, cradle of Andean civilization, and its pre-Hispanic, colonial and modern history will be examined in the four sections of the exhibition as follows:
Section 1 (introduction) will explain how archaeology rewrote the national history beginning with the discovery, in 1911, of Machu Picchu to the recent restitution of artworks.
Section 2 will focus on the myths and rituals of the early civilizations of the Andes, highlighting their role in forming and shaping Peruvian identity during the pre-Columbian era.
Section 3 will illustrate the perpetuation, concealment, and hybridization of the indigenous culture during the colonial period.
The last section will highlight the rediscovery of this culture in the 20th century and the revalorization of ancient symbols of identity in contemporary Peruvian iconography.

Adds Exhibition Curator Victor Pimentel, Curator of Pre-Columbian Art at the MMFA, “Through the representation and reinterpretation of myths, rituals and other primordial symbols of identity captured by different artistic traditions, the exhibition will illustrate how the evocative power of images have influenced the history of pre-Hispanic, colonial and modern Peru.”

Illustrating the beliefs and rituals of pre-Columbian societies

The relationship with death, particularly the constant dialogue between the world of the living and the world of the dead, is an essential component of Andean spirituality. Among the Mochicas, ceremonial sacrifices contributed to the perpetuation of the supernatural and social orders, while ancestor worship held significant importance to the Lambayeque and Chimú cultures.

In order to illustrate the beliefs and rituals that dominated the life of pre-Columbian societies, the exhibition will focus on objects associated with the sacrificial ceremony of the Mochica people (200 B.C. to 800 A.D.) and the funerary rites of the Chimú and Lambayeque cultures (11th to 15th century A.D.), by presenting some of the most complete depictions of these rituals. On display will be important objects in gold, silver, and turquoise from the royal tombs of Sipán, discovered in 1987 by archaeologist Walter Alva, constituting the most significant find made in Peru since that of Machu Picchu. They include:
• A gold ear disc depicting the Lord of the place, the Mochica governor
• A Mochica ornament in the shape of a half-feline, half-octopus recently repatriated and exhibited for the first time
outside of Peru
• Funerary jewelry (crown, ear discs, necklace, pectoral and shoulder-pieces) including a masterpiece of Chimú gold work
• A rare headboard of a Lambayeque litter depicting figures officiating at a ceremony, unique in the complexity of its ornamentation

Religion in Many Forms

The Spanish conquest of Peru in the 16th century led to the hybridization of the Peruvian culture expressed through reinterpretations of mostly religious European art. Paintings of the School of Cuzco – established by the Spanish as a means of converting the Incas to Catholicism – showing Christ, miraculous Virgins, archangels and defenders of the Catholic faith, testify to the powerful role played by images in the campaign to evangelize the Native peoples of the Andes. Included among the examples of paintings mainly by Native artists resulted from this hybridization are:
A Nativity Chest dating from the 18th century, painted with a number of Biblical stories including Adam and Eve, the Annunciation, the Nativity and the visit of the Magi. This three-dimensional illustrated catechism was used to spread Catholicism throughout the Andes.

Among the ceremonial objects on view illustrating the importance of imagery relating to the celebration of the Eucharist in the Andes is a silver Eucharistic urn in the shape of a Pelican, a bird traditionally associated with Christ’s sacrifice. It is widely considered a masterpiece of the liturgical metalwork from the Latin-American Baroque period.

A particularly popular image in art during the Viceroyal period is that of the Virgin. Symbolic representations of the virtuous life of the Virgin Mary on view, such as Young Virgin Spinning, recalls the acllas, the Virgins of the Sun in the Inca empire, whose principal occupation was making garments for the Inca and for religious rites.
Processions also played an important role in the elaboration of a Peruvian identity both as a collective expression of Christian faith and as a means of reinforcing the socio-political positions of the participants. An 18th-century depiction of a splendid Corpus Christi procession, one of the first Christian celebrations to be performed in the colony and still performed to this day, attests to the multi-ethnic nature of the city of Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Inca empire. Coinciding with the celebration of the Inti Raymi, an Inca festival dedicated to the Sun God, Corpus Christi was the most important feast day in the colonial liturgical calendar.

Peruvian art in the 19th and 20th centuries

By 1821, Peruvians had achieved their independence and had formed an indigenous collective memory that combined the idealisation of the pre-Hispanic past, particularly the Inca Empire, with an interest in local subjects. A typical work of Peruvian art of the mid-19th century, Habitante de las cordilleras del Perú (Inhabitant of the Peruvian Highlands) by Francisco Laso, portrays the indigenous peasant as a national symbol for the new Peruvian republic, and heralds the direction that Peruvian cultural nationalism was to take in the next century.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Indigenism flourished as an artistic and intellectual movement based on revalorising and reaffirming Peru’s indigenous heritage. Paintings depicting scenes of Native life and the idyllic landscapes of the Peruvian countryside and highlands such as Pastoras (Shepherdesses) by Leonor Vinatea Cantuarias were to transform the visual culture of Peru in the modern era. This movement is represented in the exhibition by a wide selection of works by José Sabogal, Camilo Blas, Julia Codesido, and Enrique Camino Brent. Widely praised for his documentation of indigenous culture, the only Amerindian included among the major artists associated with the movement is the photographer and portraitist Martín Chambi. Works by Chambi on view include Tristeza andina, La Raya (Andean sadness, La Raya).

An exhibition checklist (PDF) is available here»

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From Abrams:

Victor Pimentel, ed., Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon (Milan: 5 Continents Editions, 2013), 384 pages, ISBN: 978-8874396290, $65.

9788874396290A new publication featuring essays by the foremost experts on the art of Peru The MMFA will produce an accompanying 384-page catalogue co-published in English and in French by the MMFA and 5 Continents Editions in Milan. This fully-illustrated volume (450 illustrations) comprises essays by eminent curators and specialists and interviews with leading figures and experts on Peruvian archaeology, art history, and literature such as the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa.

Victor Pimentel is curator of pre-Columbian art at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

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