An unprecedented exhibition devoted to ancient Peruvian silver dating from the early part of the first millennium to the sixteenth century brings together for the first time well-preserved silver objects from public and private collections in the United States. The display of more than one hundred objects sheds new light on the two-thousand-year-old tradition of sophisticated silver-working, artistic creativity, and technological ingenuity that prospered in pre-Columbian Peru. Nearly half of the works on view are drawn from the Metropolitan's holdings, which in both range and quality are the strongest collection of ancient Peruvian silver in the United States.
The title of the exhibition derives from an Inka invocation chanted by tillers working the fields: "The sun rains gold, the moon rains silver." Silver, one of the three metals extensively worked in Peru from about 500 B.C. onward, was rarer at the time than gold. Spanning a period of about fifteen hundred years, the works include large decorated disks, miniature models of a garden scene and funeral procession, personal ornaments, and an important group of silver vessels in the shape of human and animal figures.
The earliest works featured in the exhibition date to about the first century B.C. and are chiefly ornaments made to be worn suspended from the nose; they were worn by men of high status and were among the earliest forms of personal jewelry in ancient Peru. They continued to be made, often in silver-gold combinations, for several centuries and remained in fashion until about A.D. 800. Those made by the Moche (ca. 100–800) were large enough to cover the lower face. One such masterpiece is the Nose Ornament with Shrimp dated 2nd–3rd century A.D. It consists of two realistic shrimp worked in gold sheet and tabbed through slits to a large silver crescent.
Metal finds from the Wari and Tiwanaku cultures, in power in the south highlands after A.D. 600, are rare and only few objects in silver are known. An outstanding example of silverwork from this period is the Warrior Plaque (7th–10th century), a broad-shouldered silver man dressed in a long tunic and wearing a four-cornered hat. He holds a spear-thrower and shield (The Glassell Collection).
The exhibition is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The exhibition was initiated with the collaboration of the Americas Society, New York.
The exhibition catalogue is made possible in part by the Roswell L. Gilpatric Fund for Publications.