Tunic with Diamond Band

Date: 1460–1540

Geography: Peru

Culture: Inca

Medium: Camelid hair, cotton

Dimensions: W. 29 × L. 35 in. (73.7 × 88.9 cm)

Classification: Textiles-Woven

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1982

Accession Number: 1982.365


It is hardly possible to overemphasize the importance of cloth and clothing in Inca culture. It has been said that no political, military, social, or religious event among the Inca was complete without textiles being exchanged or gifted, burned or sacrificed. In addition, following an ancient and widespread Andean practice, the Inca buried many fine textiles with the honored dead. The most prestigious Inca tapestry cloth is called cumbi, and this tunic is an excellent example. Ownership and use of such exquisite tapestry tunics was controlled by the Inca state, and it was the privilege of the Inca king to reward service to the state with gifts of tapestry shirts, or objects of gold and silver. Woven of finely spun cotton and camelid hair threads in double-sided tapestry weave, the tunic, which is longer than it is wide, is made from a single piece of cloth, folded at the shoulder line with a neck opening woven into the middle. It is white with a red waistband with eight stepped diamonds and crosses in yellow and black. Along the bottom, it is embellished with double-sided embroidery stitching. The tunic is identical front and back, inside and out. Ancient foldlines still visible on the shirt indicate that it was once folded into sixteenths to form a small square, probably for storage.