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Funerary Mask

10th–11th century
Sicán (Lambayeque)
Gold, copper overlays, cinnabar
H. 11 1/2 x W. 19 1/2 in. (29.2 x 49.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift and Bequest of Alice K. Bache, 1974, 1977
Accession Number:
  • Description

    A powerful dynasty of northern Peruvian religious leaders grew wealthy and proud between the ninth and the eleventh centuries, ostentatiously amassing riches in gold. Builders of the great funerary complexes at Batan Grande adjacent to the Lambayeque Valley, the lords of Lambayeque were compulsive horders of gold objects that bore the image of what may have been their legendary dynastic founder. At death, the lords were buried with their golden treasures. Large masks, such as that illustrated here, were among these mortuary offerings. As many as five masks could be placed into one burial, one attached to the head of the textile-wrapped body and the other four stacked a the feet of the deceased.

    The masks vary in thickness, metal composition, and surface embellishment. The cinnabar-red paint that covers much of the cheeks and forehead of the mask seen here was most consistently used, but remnants of yellow, blue, black, and orange colors have also been identified. Feathers, too, were added for color; the pupils of some eyes were made of them. The eyes of this mask have thin, skewerlike projections emerging from the pupils, perhaps suggesting the expressive qualities of the eyes themselves. Further surface additions include the spangles or danglers that appear on the lateral ear projections and the larger ones that adorn the U-shaped nose ornament.

  • Provenance

    [Maurice L. Bonnefoy, D'Arcy Galleries, New York, until 1965]; Alice K. Bache, New York, 1965–1977 (partial gift from 1974)

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History