Thursday, May 21, 2009

Larco Museum, Lima . . .

Yesterday we visited the Museo de la Nacion here in Lima. First, our guide took us through the third floor's bewilderingly exhibition, organized not around cultures but around the common themes that cross all Andean indigenous peoples. No dates. No neat little cards naming the artifact, where it was found, or which culture it came from. But we did gain an understanding of the main themes that underlie these cultures from prehistory (about 2,000 BC) to the time of the Spanish Conquest (1432).

Downstairs, we could wander through a more traditional chronological ordering of artifacts, each case highlighted a different Andean culture. And despite what Lonely Planet said, yes, you can take photographs. I will return with camera.

Today we traveled across Lima, a small town of 13 million souls, in a gas-belching, heart-stopping, lurching co-operativa bus, the kind that keeps moving when you leap on and off and that stops inches behind the car in front. But we traveled to the Larco Museum, properly called the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera, famous for its thousands of artifacts, not the least being some of the most beautiful pots I've ever seen -- and textiles. This private museum combined equisitely selected artifacts with careful notations. Larco was a thoughtful expert, classifying Andean cultures into a timeline. Even the Moche pottery was subdivided into 5 distinct categories. The museum notes explained how sacred beliefs developed over time, what elements stayed consistent between different cultures, and how this relates to our understandings of these people.

Characteristics of birds, serpents and felines (physical and supernatural) appear repeatedly to combine the sky (heaven, the source of rain), the land (this world), and the underworld (source of fruits of the earth and where the dead went). Notice the beautiful bird headdress of this Moche portrait sculpture (read more at Wikipedia). The Moche sculptures are beautifully realistic; most have an otherworldly look, almost trance-like. Interestingly, none of these Moche sculptures are of women, but nobles, priests and acclaimed artisans. These remind me of the painfully realistic portrait sculptures of the Romans, who borrowed and copied from the Greeks. We may return again, for the gardens, for the tasty lunch in the museum restaurant, but most certainly for more time with these beautiful pieces, from the earliest times to the Conquest. Even two more quippus -- and an exquisite Incan mantle made entirely of tiny blue and yellow feathers.

And if you are interested in am ancient sea god with the golden tentacles of an octopus returned to Peru in 2006, read more here.

One of the continuing controversies is over the looting of many Peruvian antiquities, which are slowly being returned from museums around the world. And of course I didn't buy an antique textile from a street vendor. Truly.

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