Sicán or Chimú
10 ½ x 16 ½ in
Museum purchase with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Ralf Kircher and Mr. Louis Jacobs
Sicán or Chimú
For more than 500 years, this exquisite Chimú gold mask lay buried, undisturbed by Spanish conquistadors of the 16th century and generations of huaceros, as Peruvian grave robbers are known. Excavated in the l960s near the ruins of Chan Chan, the ancient capital of the Chimú, this mask once adorned the mummy of a wealthy and prominent leader. It is one of the finest examples of a Chimú funerary work in the United States.
This work is exceptional for its completeness, being comprised of 35 separate pieces, its rare large size, and its elaborate execution and design. The intricate cutout anthropomorphic ornamentation on the ear flanges is notable. Although no traces of red cinnabar paint are found, the mask may very well have been painted and decorated with semiprecious stones, shells, and colorful feathers.
The Chimú Empire, a highly sophisticated society that immediately preceded the dominance of the Inca, flourished between 1100 and 1400. They occupied an area along the north coast of Peru ranging from the Ecuador border to near present-day Lima. Expanding the region of their predecessors, the Moche, they improved irrigation and drainage systems, extended networks of roads, and enlarged urban and ceremonial centers. The Chimú believed in an afterlife closely linked to their earthly world. The dead were prepared for their journey into the next life with elaborate tombs and copious amounts of goods buried alongside the departed. The carefully wrapped mummies were adorned with elaborate ornamentation, of which this mask was a part. It was probably sewn into the fabric wrappings of the mummy’s head. The mask and other decorations played an important role in the intricate conveyance of the dead from this world into the next, as symbols of wealth and status and because they were believed to protect and beautify the dead.