Although the chair and casket are vacant, we know from other works of art that even in death, high-status individuals were carried in sedan chairs like the one shown here.
The figures were constructed of multiple pieces of sheet silver joined through slotting, soldering, and crimping. They are sewn onto the fabric base that appears to be original, suggesting that the figures are still arranged in their intended configuration. Included in this arrangement is a small vase that today holds a single feather, raising the likelihood that the piece may have included other, more delicate materials now lost.
This type of tableau is tied to a larger tradition of commemorating ritual events in miniature. The custom is found in many cultures along the Peruvian coast. Funerary scenes found in the Chimú area tend to be made of ceramic or wood, while the central-coast Chancay are better known for their textile miniatures, the subject matter of which includes a wide variety of special events. Both cultures are known for their skill at metalworking.
Elaborate miniature sculptural scenes found in context at the Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon) in the Moche Valley in northern Peru suggest that Krannert Art Museum's sliver funerary cortege may originally have been one of several scenes inside a single tomb.
The exact function of such artwork is not well understood. However, pictorial arrangements give an idea of how coastal Chancay and Chimú funerary rituals may have been conducted. It seems that the deceased would have been accompanied to the afterlife, at least symbolically, by an entourage engaged in the perpetual enactment of religious ritual.
Text by Margaret A. Jackson, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008