Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Central and Southern Andes, 1400–1600 A.D.

Coastal Lowlands
Cajamarca cultures, 1250–1450
Wanka cultures, 1250–1450
Early Inka culturea, 1000–1438
Chimú kingdom, 1150–1450
Chincha cultures, 1150–1450
Ica cultures, 700–1470
Conquest period, 1532–42
Inka state, 1438–1532
Viceroyalty of Perú, 1542–1824
Conquest period, 1532–42
Inka state, 1438–1532
Viceroyalty of Perú, 1542–1824


Encompasses present-day Bolivia, northwestern Argentina, Chile, and Peru

By the mid-fifteenth century, the Inka people dominate the Cuzco valley. In less than 100 years, two exceptionally talented military leaders succeed in bringing large territories to the north and south of the valley under Inka control. They create the largest empire in the Precolumbian world, stretching some 3,000 miles from northern Ecuador to central Chile. Called Tawantinsuyu, "land of the four parts," the empire has Cuzco at its heart located at 11,000 feet in the high Andes. It is made up of a loose confederation of ethnic groups linked to Cuzco through conquests, alliances, and kinship ties. To manage this vast land of remarkable geographic contrasts and striking ethnic diversity, and to redistribute its wealth of natural resources, the Inka expand existing systems. Sophisticated engineering projects—roads, irrigation systems, and agricultural terraces—and political, economic, and social mechanisms traditional to Andean peoples are used. Many conquered regions are ruled locally under Inka supervision and local languages continue to be spoken. The Inka's Quechua is the prestigious language of the administration. The Inka solar cult becomes the state religion. In art and architecture, a homogeneous imperial Inka style—developed in the Cuzco area—is introduced throughout the realm. Coexisting with local traditions, the style is characterized by simple, elegant forms, balanced proportions, and abstract, geometric designs executed with superb craftsmanship.

The Inka empire is weakened by a bitter battle for succession in the 1520s when Spanish invaders arrive in Peru. Helped by disgruntled Inka subjects burdened by the growing demands of Cuzco's rulers for labor and sumptuary goods, the Spaniards, led by Francisco Pizarro, conquer Tawantinsuyu in 1534. Decades of upheaval, destruction, intense rivalry among colonialists, and fierce resistance by the Indians follow. After almost fifty years of bloodshed and a dramatic decline of native populations, European institutions have largely replaced indigenous ones. Following the conquerors are clergymen charged with the conversion of the Indians to the Catholic faith, and large numbers of Spaniards, attracted by accounts of fabulous wealth in gold and silver. They found new cities with markets, Catholic churches and monasteries, and elegant mansions for the new elite. The Spaniards bring with them European artworks, particularly paintings, prints, and sculptures, which are used to instruct indigenous artists in the new European imagery and aesthetics. Art is produced primarily for the Catholic church and wealthy European patrons.

    • ca. 1400 Túcume, under Chimú rule but governed by local lords, is the leading political center in the northern Lambayeque region. The city grows and assumes an urban character. Its largest structure is converted from a freestanding truncated mound into a long platform rising onto Cerro La Raya, the mountain that dominates the site.

    • ca. 1400 Textile artists on Peru's north and central coast produce elaborate works in an unprecedented variety of techniques executed in a virtuoso manner, among them gauzes, slit tapestries, and brocades. Supplemental materials and objects such as colorful beads, feathers, and gold and silver ornaments further enhance luxurious tunics, loincloths, mantles, and headgear.

    • ca. 1420 Chimú society's increased demand for luxury goods leads to state-sponsored craft production in provincial centers. At Manchán in the Casma River valley, hundreds of workshops produce fine textiles, beadwork, ceramics, and metal objects.

    • ca. 1438 Inka territorial expansion begins. The Inka leader Yupanqui establishes hegemony in the Cuzco valley and adjacent areas after repeated battles with the Chancas, their archrivals. Yupanqui is crowned Sapa Inka (unique king), assuming the name Pachakuti (ca. 1391–ca. 1473). He plans Cuzco to be the ceremonial, political, and economic center of an Inka state.

    • ca. 1450 Chan Chan, a vast labyrinth of massive adobe walls sprawling for eight square miles at the mouth of the Moche River, has an estimated population of more than 30,000. It is among the largest cities built in the central Andes and has nine to eleven imposing royal compounds (ciudadelas), the biggest covering some fifty-five acres. Scattered among the ciudadelas are residences of lesser nobility, artisans' quarters, monumental adobe shrines, cemeteries, and agricultural fields.

    • ca. 1460 Machu Picchu, a country estate built by Pachakuti in the pleasant climate of the Urubamba River valley, is located on a narrow ridge high above the densely forested slopes of the valley. The retreat is used for relaxation, entertainment, and diplomatic feasting as well as for religious ceremonies and rituals.

    • ca. 1463 Topa Inka, Pachakuti's son, takes control of the army. Father and son—able conquerors and talented organizers—embark on sweeping campaigns extending the Inka domain to Quito in the north and central Chile in the south.

    • ca. 1470 A regional Inka administrative center, Tambo Colorado in the Pisco River valley, is built entirely of adobe. Plan and architecture have typical Inka features such as rectangular plazas with ushnus (viewing platforms) and buildings with trapezoidal niches, windows, and doors.

    • ca. 1470 The Inka conquer Chan Chan, capital of the Chimú kingdom, plundering the royal tombs and storerooms. Metalsmiths are taken to Cuzco, where they produce works of an unprecedented scale in the Inka style.

    • ca. 1471 Pachakuti resigns, leaving the empire to his son Topa Inka Yupanqui.

    • ca. 1480 Male and female figurines in gold and silver are dressed in finely woven miniature versions of Inka elite dress. Mantles, coca bags, belts, and feather headdresses are included. They are placed as offerings in special burials and in sacred sites in the landscape, such as caves, springs, outcrops, and mountain peaks.

    • ca. 1480 On the main road between Cuzco and Quito, Huanuco Pampa serves as a provincial administrative center. The city has nearly 4,000 buildings and a gigantic plaza, where state ceremonies are held. Public buildings, a royal palace, residences, and workshops surround it.

    • ca. 1490 The Chachapoya people build burial towers (chullpas) on a limestone cliff above the Laguna de los Cóndores in the northeastern Andes. Nine feet tall with two floors, the towers are built of limestone blocks. Some are painted in white, red, and yellow while others have zigzag stone friezes.

    • ca. 1490 Diaguita ceramics on Chile's northern coast show Inka influence in form and design.

    • ca. 1490 The Inka build the Temple of the Sun over an earlier structure at Pachacamac, the ancient oracle and pilgrimage center on Peru's central coast.

    • ca. 1490 Cuzco is the architectural showcase of the empire, boasting grand palaces for kings, elegant elite residences, and holy shrines built of the finest stonework.

    • ca. 1493 Huayna Capac succeeds Topa Inka.

    • ca. 1498 Christopher Columbus lands on the continent of South America.

    • ca. 1500 Sacred places (huacas) in the environs of Cuzco are located along a complex network of about forty imaginary lines, called ceques, thought to radiate from the city's Temple of the Sun.

    • ca. 1510 The finest cloth, called cumbi, is woven by cloistered "chosen women" in the Inka empire. They produce exquisite garments of cotton and camelid hair—hair of llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas—for noble and ritual use.

    • ca. 1510 A distinctive Inka storage vessel of ceramic is in use throughout the empire. Known as aryballos, or urpus in Quechua, they range in height from four inches to four feet, and are usually embellished with geometric polychrome designs.

    • ca. 1520 Inka records are kept on khipus, knotted strings that tally the empire's tribute, population numbers, and economic transactions.

    • ca. 1525 A major epidemic, probably smallpox, spreads into Tawantinsuyu from the north, killing thousands of native peoples.

    • ca. 1527 The Inka ruler Huayna Capac dies suddenly of a European disease while in Quito. Without a designated heir, a bitter battle for succession ensues. War breaks out between his sons Huascar and Atawallpa.

    • ca. 1530 The Inka empire stretches for almost 3,000 miles on the Pacific side of South America from central Chile and northwestern Argentina to northern Ecuador. Fifteen thousand miles of road connect its cities and towns.

    • ca. 1531 Francisco Pizarro (ca. 1475–1541) obtains authorization from the king of Spain to conquer Peru. He embarks from Panama to Peru.

    • ca. 1532 Huascar is killed by his brother Atawallpa's forces. Pizarro arrives in the coastal town of Tumbes. The Spaniard captures Atawallpa and imprisons him in the highland city of Cajamarca.

    • ca. 1533 Despite the paying of an enormous ransom in gold and silver, Atawallpa is not set free and is executed by his Spanish captors. A puppet government is established under a member of Inka royalty.

    • ca. 1534 Cuzco is invaded by the Spaniards. The church and monastery of Santo Domingo are built on the foundations of the Coricancha (Golden Enclosure), the most sacred temple in the Inka empire.

    • ca. 1535 The Ciudad de los Reyes (City of Kings), today Lima, is founded by Pizarro near the mouth of the Rímac River on January 6, the Festival of the Three Kings.

    • ca. 1535 The Spanish crown assigns lands known as encomiendas to colonizers, with Indians as laborers and taxpayers; in return, they are required to Christianize and protect the native peoples.

    • ca. 1536 The Indians rebel against the abuses and hardships of the invaders and besiege Cuzco.

    • ca. 1541 Civil war breaks out among Spanish settlers. Francisco Pizarro is killed.

    • ca. 1542 The Viceroyalty of Perú, with Lima as its capital, is established; it includes Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and north-central Argentina and Chile. The New Laws of the Indies are promulgated, officially prohibiting Indian slavery. Colonists use African slaves instead; hundreds of thousands are brought to the Americas primarily by the Portuguese.

    • ca. 1545 The richest silver mine in the world is discovered in Potosí in southern Bolivia, attracting large numbers of fortune hunters from Spain.

    • ca. 1551 Pedro de Cieza de León (1518–1554), a Spanish soldier who traveled widely in the Andean area, writes the first extensive history of the native peoples entitled Crónica del Perú.

    • ca. 1553 The University of San Marcos opens in Lima. It is the first university founded in South America.

    • ca. 1555 Guilds are established in Lima to organize and regulate art and craft production, the training of artists, and the setting of quality standards. Only Spaniards can serve as masters.

    • ca. 1560 Construction on the cathedral in Cuzco begins. Built of large slabs of granite taken from the Inka fortress of Sacsahuaman, it is one of the most imposing structures in the city. The elegant Renaissance facade contrasts with the lavish interior, which houses ecclesiastical works in gold and silver made by native smiths.

    • ca. 1562 Indian leaders urge the Catholic church in Lima to ask the king of Spain to end the encomienda system and restore their lands.

    • ca. 1569 Francisco de Toledo (1520–1583; r. 1569–81), fifth viceroy, reorganizes the colony.

    • ca. 1570 Viceroy Toledo introduces a labor system designed for maximum exploitation of the mines. Horrendous working conditions of the largely Indian labor force enormously increase the death toll.

    • ca. 1570 Commissioned by Spaniards and descendants of Inka nobility, indigenous master weavers and metalworkers produce fine textiles and silver objects. The works combine traditional Inka techniques, forms, and designs with European elements.

    • ca. 1571 Portraits of the twelve Inka kings and their wives are painted in European style for the king of Spain. Commissioned by Viceroy Toledo of native artists, he also commissions Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa (1532–1592) to write the Historia de los Incas.

    • ca. 1572 Tupac Amaru I, the last of the Inka royal heirs, is executed on Toledo's order. Inka nobles are exiled from Cuzco.

    • ca. 1573 A standardized grid plan for new settlements in the Americas is signed into law by King Philip II.

    • ca. 1575 Bernardo Bitti (1548–1610), a Jesuit painter in the Mannerist style from Rome, arrives in Lima. For forty years, he paints and teaches devotional painting throughout the Andes.

    • ca. 1575 The convent of Santa Catalina is founded in Arequipa, where daughters of wealthy families care for the sick and offer shelter to travelers.

    • ca. 1576 On the site of an Inka ruler's palace in Cuzco, the Jesuits build the Compañía Church, one of the finest examples of colonial Baroque architecture in the Americas.

    • ca. 1580 Dominican friars build several missions on the altiplano of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. Charged primarily with the conversion of Indians to Catholicism, the missions also provide education in Spanish, reading, writing, and the arts as well as protection from abusive settlers.

    • ca. 1583 The first printing press is set up in Lima. The Jesuits produce dictionaries, grammars, and Bibles in Quechua.

    • ca. 1585 Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala (1535?–1620?), born shortly after the Spanish conquest into a noble Andean family, begins to compose an illustrated letter of complaint to the king of Spain about the harsh treatment of the Indians by the colonists. Completed in 1615, this compelling document comprises 1,188 pages and 398 drawings; it is known as El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno.

    • ca. 1590 Working closely with indigenous informants, the Mercedarian friar Martín de Murúa (1525/35–1618) compiles the Historia general del Perú. Describing Inka rulers and their wives, their customs and laws, their cities and military leaders, the text is accompanied by 112 colored drawings.

    • ca. 1600 Potosí, a city of some 160,000, is one of the wealthiest in the world. Luxury items from all over the world are imported to satisfy the expensive tastes of its affluent European residents.