peru - funerary mask

This photo was published in the catalog for the exhibition "Schätze der Anden - Chiles Kupfer für die Welt" (Treasures of the Andes - Chilean copper to the World) at Deutschen Bergbau-Museums in Bochum, Germany.


Funerary Mask, 10-11th century AD. Lambayeque, Peru.

Gold, copper overlays, cinnabar; H. 11 1/2 in. (29.2 cm)

Gift and Bequest of Alice K. Bache, 1974, 1977 (1974.271.35)


A powerful dynasty of northern Peruvian religious leaders grew wealthy and proud between the ninth and the eleventh centuries, ostentatiously amassing riches in gold. Builders of the great funerary complexes at Batan Grande adjacent to the Lambayeque Valley, the lords of Lambayeque were compulsive horders of gold objects that bore the image of what may have been their legendary dynastic founder. At death, the lords were buried with their golden treasures. Large masks, such as that illustrated here, were among these mortuary offerings. As many as five masks could be placed into one burial, one attached to the head of the textile-wrapped body and the other four stacked a the feet of the deceased.


The masks vary in thickness, metal composition, and surface embellishment. The cinnabar-red paint that covers much of the cheeks and forehead of the mask seen here was most consistently used, but remnants of yellow, blue, black, and orange colors have also been identified. Feathers, too, were added for color; the pupils of some eyes were made of them. The eyes of this mask have thin, skewerlike projections emerging from the pupils, perhaps suggesting the expressive qualities of the eyes themselves. Further surface additions include the spangles or danglers that appear on the lateral ear projections and the larger ones that adorn the U-shaped nose ornament.


This mask comes from the northern La Leche River valley, where a succession of powerful rulers amassed prodigious amounts of wealth in metal objects. Recently, archaeologists discovered a royal burial at the presumed ceremonial and funerary center of the Sicán culture, Batán Grande. The main personage's face was covered by a sheet-gold mask similar to the present example. It was painted with bright red cinnabar and embellished with nose and ear ornaments and dangles. In some South American countries today, red is thought to have protective qualities. Perhaps the mask's red pigment was meant to protect the deceased in the afterlife. Poorly understood features on Sicán burial masks are the skewerlike projections from the pupils of the eyes. They may symbolize a penetrating gaze.


Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.

  • Pet Werewolf 9y

    I couldn't help but notice some tags with this picture that don't make sense: Mesoamerica and Maya.
    The culture area of which Peru is a part is commonly referred to as the Andes Region. It has little to do with Mesoamerica or the Maya.

    Mesoamerica is region number 11 on this map, the Andes is region number 15.
    -- from PetWerewolf

    The most well-known culture from the Andes region were, of course, the Inca. This mask, according to the information, is from a pre-inca culture.

    Very nice!
  • Pet Werewolf 9y

    I looked up some information in one of my books:

    "In the Lambayeque Valley, on the north coast of Peru, wide, relatively flat masks have been found in burials, one mask placed on the tomb occupant and several more on bundles.
    This painted example is 50cm wide, made of a single sheet of gold, with raised facial features and danglers attached by wires. The eye wires may once have held precious stones.
    The mask probably depicts the major Sicán deity, whose visage is seen on ceramics as well as on several kinds of gold objects.
    The wide face and teardrop-shaped eyes are diagnostic of the Sicán style." (Atlas of Ancient America)
  • Xuan Che 9y

    "The Atlas of..." is a superb series of history as far as I know. I now have the Greek and Britian atlas...

    Thank you for your correction and info all the time. They really help me a lot.

    About the inappropriate tags: I batch uploaded this set of MET picture and write a bunch of batch tags too, and kind of became too lazy to remove them one by one. I am sorry for all the misleadings and will try to fix them asap.
  • Bim Bom 9y

  • cornel gingarasu 9y

    the 'scent' of the history ...wonderful !
    The World Through My Eyes
  • Don Baird 9y

    Neat shot. Interesting.....
  • manu_le_manu 9y

    ** This was voted a HIT from Hit, Miss or Maybe **

    Nicely done.
  • McPig 9y

    Cool subject, interesting :)

    ** This was voted a hit from Hit, Miss, Maybe, WHY? **
  • The Robert Goldwater Library, The Metropolitan Museum of Art 8y

    Hi, I'm an admin for a group called Metropolitan Museum: Arts of Africa, Oceania, & The Americas, and we'd love to have your photo added to the group.
  • Ross Day 8y

    Read more about it at Timeline of Art History.
  • Silvana Morales Oliva 8y

    Linda Toma!

    Nos gustaria que la agregaras a:

    Todas tus fotos son bienvenidas en PERU WORLD
  • Mariadela 8y

    Gracias por agregar tu foto al grupo!
    Thank you for adding your photo to the group!

    Seen at Peruvian Images
  • LeszekZadlo 8y

    Hi, I'm an admin for a group called 100 + Viewed Best Archaeology & Ruins Photos (add 1, award 1), and we'd love to have your photo added to the group.
  • LeszekZadlo 8y

    Award from: 100 + Viewed Best Archaeology & Ruins Photos (add 1, award 1) group.
  • Divya Sekar 6y

    Love this one! I am an artist, and I need your permission to use these photos for my painting inspiration! thanks!
  • Xuan Che 6y

    @Divya Sekar, Hey go ahead. Glad to know that you like it. Let me know how it turns out:)
  • Divya Sekar 6y

    will surely upload the pic of the painting once its done..cheers!!!
  • visualkreator 6y

    Hi, I'm an admin for a group called Peru Photos, and we'd love to have this added to the group!
20 faves
Taken on December 30, 2005
  • ƒ/2.8
  • 7.4 mm
  • 1/25
  • Flash (off, did not fire)
  • Show EXIF
This photo is in 2 albums

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