Feathered Tunic

13th–14th century
Cotton, feathers
w. 49 x H. 44 1/2 in. (124.5 x 113 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of John Wise, 1956
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Colorful feathers, particularly those of tropical rainforest birds, were among the most highly valued luxury materials in many cultures throughout the ancient Americas. In Peru their use in ritual contexts has been dated to as early as the second millennium B.C.; their primary use was, however, to embellish elite apparel: headdresses, sashes, ear and chest ornaments, and even full-size tabards (open-sided tunics) as seen here. Ancient featherworkers used several techniques to create dense feather mosaic on different types of surfaces. Covering cloth with feather mosaic was a complex, multistep process that required knotting literally thousands of small feathers on to strings; the feather strings were then stitched to the foundation fabric.
    The strong, basic color and geometric format of most of ancient Peruvian feather textiles relate to certain contemporary visual idioms and thus appeal to many who have little knowledge of their origin. In the mid-1950s, feathered textiles of various types and sizes, from extremely large to very small, began appearing on the international art market in some numbers. This large feathered tabard was a gift to the Rockefeller collection from the New York Precolumbian art dealer John Wise. It was first exhibited in 1958 in the Museum of Primitive Art's Selected Works Four, Art of Ancient Peru.

  • Provenance

    [John Wise Ltd., New York, until 1956]; Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1956–1978