Mantle (Peru), 16th–17th century
Medium: warp: cotton; weft: silk, metallic (silver strips wrapped around linen core) Technique: plain weave with discontinuous wefts (tapestry), interlocked Label: silk and metallic tapestry. Gift of John Pierpont Morgan. 1902-1-782.
What is this?
Mantle decorated with series of broad and narrow horizontal bands in reds, pale tan, cream, pale yellow, blues, silver. A broad band across the middle is made up of ten narrow bands, with adjacent rectangles containing Inca geometric patterns and some adapted Tiahuanaco eye forms, separated throughout and edged top and bottom with variety of guard stripes. Above and below this broad central band are slightly narrower pink bands, edged top and bottom with small stepped scallops and filled with close-set mermaids and bird, fish, animal and floral motives, seemingly scattered, but actually set symmetrically on either side of two central vases set one above the other in each band and filled with flowers and fruit. Two narrow bands with attendant varied guard stripes border the mantle at top and bottom; the inner red band is similar to the bands in the center of the mantle; the outer cream-grounded band contains a series of bird, fish, and floral motives symmetrically spaced on either side of the central axis of the mantle; pink guard stripes terminate the mantle at top and bottom.
Why is this in our collection?
This beautiful cloth is a woman’s shoulder mantle, called a lliclla in the Quechua language of the Inca Empire, and was made during the colonial period of Peru. A perfect blend of the cross-cultural elements of the 16th- and 17th-century era of global trade, the Chinese silk and Spanish silver threads are woven with Inca techniques and design motifs. The abstract designs of geometric squares, tocapu, are rendered in modulated colors to form a cascade that moves from left to right. Each small square is its own universe. Some scholars believe that they represent a language, though the Inca Empire had no known written language. Though we do not know today what exactly the tocapu represent, in Inca times these... more