Detail of mantle with hummingbird design, ca. 100 BCE
Cotton, alpaca wool
73 1/4 x 56 3/4 inches
Gift of Fred Olsen and the Art Acquisition Fund 1967-29-56
The Nasca people, heirs to the South Coast Peruvian textile tradition, continued the well-established practice of wrapping and burying their dead in multiple large woven mantles. Mantles such as this, which is believed to date from early in the Nasca period (ca. 400 BCE–ca. 800 CE), demonstrate a high degree of technical skill and investment of labor. One can infer a strong connection between the number and quality of a deceased individual's burial shrouds and the status or social role that person had in life. Although little is known of the exact origin of this particular textile, its former owner was most likely a fairly high-ranking member of Nasca society.
The arid climate of the region accounts for the preservation of the textile's vivid color scheme. Embellished with a wool border of intricately detailed and alternately colored hummingbirds, the main body of the piece is composed of a single expanse of dark blue plain-weave cotton cloth. The hummingbirds were fashioned in a difficult embroidery technique sometimes referred to as needle-knitting or cross-knit looping. The cross-knit looping technique is indicative of the early Nasca stylistic phase.
The hummingbird design may have symbolic meaning. In nature, the birds are fast, agile, and very territorial; they will not hesitate to attack much larger birds that stray into their territory. Several ancient Peruvian artistic traditions draw an analogy between warriors and hummingbirds, and it may be that this mantle shrouded an important member of the warrior class.
Text by Margaret A. Jackson, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008