Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Larco Museum

After lunch at Toshiro's I ventured to Pueblo Libre and the Larco Museum.    The museum, between its permanent exhibits and storehouse, houses one of the most extensive collections of pre-Columbian artifacts in Peru and has long been one of the foremost museums in Lima.   

The museum was established in 1926 by Rafael Larco Hoyle to house and exhibit the private collection he and his father had amassed, primarily by purchasing and merging other private collections from hacienda owners in the north of Peru.   Originally housed in 17 rooms in the Larco family's Chiclin hacienda near Trujillo, the collection was transported to Lima in 1949.   There, Mr. Larco purchased a 17th Century mansion to house the museum and established a foundation to ensure its continuity and promote the study of the artifacts.

Although it contains significant  examples metallurgy and weaving from anciet Peru, the bulk of the collection consists of ceramics;  some 45,000 pieces, almost all of which are on display to the public, as the museum is unique in that it opens its storehouse to the public.

The storehouse consists of room upon room of pottery -almost all of it from northern Peru- classified according to culture of origin and distinctive features (form, imagery, etc.).   The objects in the storehouse are only minimally labelled as they are not part of the exhibits per se, but are a research collection.

Nonetheless, wandering its passages, one can find interesting examples of the ancient Peruvian potters' art, for example depictions of disease and other maladies.

Many of the nicest and most representative pieces are, of course, on display in the permanent exhibit:

Moche portrait vase (c. 150 - c. 800 C.E.)

Inca keros or ritual chicha vessels (c. 1200 - 1533 C.E.)

Post-Conquest kero (16th Century)

Inca urpus or aryballos (c. 1200 - 1533 C.E.)

Inca quipu (c. 1200 - 1533 C.E.)

Inca quipu (c. 1200 - 1533 C.E.), detail

Moche war maces (c. 150 - 800 C.E.)

Moche silver "coccyx protectors", part of Moche war gear (c. 150 - 800 C.E.)

Detail of Colonial-era painting depicting the "Kings of Peru"

Moche depiction of a warrior (c. 150 - 800 C. E.)

Unopened mummy bundle, pre-Inca
And, despite all their not incosiderable skill, it is refreshing to know that even for Moche potters all did not always go as planned:

What the Larco Museum is most famous for is, of course, its collection of  "erotic" pottery.   The ancient Peruvians, and the Moche in particular, were not shy about depicting all aspects of life in their ceramics, including sexual themes.

Many of those are clearly for ritual use, and most probably bear some religious significance.  Many of them are quite frank depictions of coitus, fellatio, and mutual masturbation.

I once read a book by a young woman who visited Peru, I believe in the 1940s, and paid a visit to Mr. Larco.  He proudly showed her his collections, but demured from showing her the huacos eroticos, which he kept behind a curtain, as they were not "appropriate for a young lady".   Fortunately, by the time I toured the museum with my third grade class from Colegio Abraham Lincoln, attitudes had changed and, to our delight, we got to see all the exhibits.
Due to the content, I decided not to bother taking pictures of that part of the collection on this visit, but when I saw the expression on the faces of these two, I couldn't resist snapping their picture!

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