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PYRAMIDS, PALACES AND GREAT BIG WALLS -

Art in Latin America

EXPANDED MATERIALS LIST

1.  BOTTLE, Late Chavin period (7OO—500 BC) ceramic, 13” high, North Coast Peru Reproduction photograph

In the absence of iron and many other utility materials which are taken for granted today, pottery in the ancient Andean civilizations was adapted to a very wide range of practical functions. One of its principal uses was for the preparation, serving, and storage of food and drink. It was also used for ceremonial purposes and was buried with the dead as mortuary gifts. Nest, though not all, the pottery which has survived in museums and private collections was recovered from burials. It has been suggested, though this is not certain, that potters were mainly women. The wheel was unknown in Pre-Colombian America and none of the pottery shows the mechanical precision of wheel-made wares.

Many of the little pots or bottles show genre scenes of an incredible variety. Every conceivable activity from procreation to embalming has been shown. The ceramic form depicts the full range of the life of the people; torture, disease, religious practice, weaving, farming, architecture, weapons, tools, hunting, fishing, fighting, portraiture and even scientific observations; zoology, botany, conchology, herpetology, - the list is endless.  

Early art of ancient Peru is dominated by representations of jungle creatures of which the most important is the big cat, or jaguar. Jaguars, anthropomorphic jaguars, and parts of Jaguars are found in a variety of stylized forms. One such stylization appears here where a jaguar head in profile rises vertically on the front of the bottle.

The jaguar was one of the principal gods of some Latin American people, symbolizing strength and power. His roar represented thunder in a rainstorm.  

1a.  AZTEC MASK, PLASTER REPRODUCTION.  

 

The Aztecs worshipped many gods, who each looked after a different part of life. They believed that the gods watched them constantly and would become angry if the people did not carry out the right sacrifices and festivals at the right time. They tried to win the favour of the gods by sacrificing many prisoners.

 

One of the most famous of the Aztec rulers was Montezuma. He believes in a god called Quetzalcoatl (the feathered god). Montezuma thought that one day this god would return to the land from the east. He believed that Cortez the explorer was this god when he came to conquer the lands. Cortez was able to conquer the Aztecs by the strength of his army and also by alliance and diplomatic organization of other tribes that were alienated from Montezuma. His ability to communicate with the chief was entirely due to a woman interpreter who was given to him as a gift. After controversial battles, Cortez conquered the Aztecs and sent more Spanish soldiers to take other parts of central America, Mexico and South America.

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The Aztecs

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The legend of Quetzalcoatl

2.   CEREMONIAL KNIFE, Head of the winged god of the Chimu, (c .900-1200) hammered tumbaga and gemstones blade of cast arid hammered tumbaga. Museum poster .

The Chimu gold knife or tumi was meant for religious ceremonial use rather than sacrifices. The elaborately wrought hilt, with turquoise, depicts the head of a winged god. He wears the ear-plugs popular among the Inca nobility, and humming birds hang from his head—dress. The Incas venerated their emperors as living gods.

In prehistoric Peru, gold was found in rivers and subterranean veins and on the earth’s surface. Thus, the precious metal was incorporated into native art at a time when mining arid smelting were unknown. During the centuries before the Spanish conquest, Indian artisans acquired a wealth of gold objects — the enormous number of which aroused the greed of foreign adventurers. Although the conquistadors melted into bullion as much Peruvian treasure as they could extort for their coffers, the vast majority of Peruvian gold objects remained buried in tombs and caches never discovered by the plunderers.

3. QUIMBAYA PECTORAL , cast tumbaga (alloy of copper, gold and other metals) 1200 AD. GOLD OF EL DORADO POSTER. (Quimbaya is a region of Colombia and a time period)

The tumbaga in this piece has a high percentage of copper, some of which has corroded to produce the green discoloration on the surface. Modern analysis confirms the sixteenth century Spanish statements that tumbaga (also called guanin gold, or caricoli) was extremely variable in composition often with a gold content of less than 20 %. Even the copper rich tumbagas could be treated so as to give a superficial appearance of pure gold, a fact which at first deceived many Spaniards. The facial features on this pectoral figure seem more realistic, less formalistic, than those of typical QUIMBAYA style.    

 

EL DORADO

  El Dorado, a legendary country abounding in gold, was rumored in the 16th and 17th centuries to exist somewhere in South America. The name of the country, which in Spanish means “gilded man,” was derived from its alleged ruler who was so rich that he covered his body with gold dust each day and then washed it off in a lake each evening. Spanish conquistadors, hearing tales of El Dorado’s fabulous wealth, set out to find its treasures.

The legend of El Dorado probably originated among the Chibcha Indians, who inhabited the highlands around present-day Bogota, Colombia. The Chibcha anointed each new chief with resinous gums and covered his body with gold dust. The chief then plunged from a boat into the sacred Lake Guatavita and washed off the gold as an offering to the Earth gods, while the people on shore threw their own offerings of gold and gems into the water. This ritual had died out before the arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century and evidently had been transformed into a legend.

The Spanish discovery of the rich cities of the Aztecs and the Incas helped develop the story of El Dorado into the legend of a whole country filled with treasure. Beginning around 1530, a long series of expeditions was organized by Europeans to search for El Dorado and the fabled cities of Manoa and Omagua. One of the most famous of these was led (1569-72) by Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada, who had conquered the Chibcha and founded the city of Bogota. The search eventually spread from the Bogota highlands into the valleys of the Amazon and Orinoco rivers. Sir Walter Raleigh led two of the last expeditions in 1595 and 1617. Although the searchers never found El Dorado, their expeditions resulted in the exploration of much of northern South America. El Dorado is the title of a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, and the legend is alluded to in both John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Voltaire’s Candide.

Bibliography:

Center for Inter-American Relations Staff, El Dorado: The Gold of Ancient Colombia (1980); Naipaul, V. S.,

The Loss of El Dorado: A History (1969); Raleigh, Walter, Discovery of the Large, Rich, and Beautiful Empire of Guiana (1848; repr. 1970);

Von Hagen, Victor Wolfgang, The Golden Man: A Quest for El Dorado (1974);

Whitfield, Joseph, The Treasure of El Dorado (1977).

4.   HEADDRESS, 1871, Wayana Indians, Surinam, So. America. Feathers, plant fibers, trade beads, native leather.   

The headdresses are made on a plaited basketwork base, around which feathers and down are attached. The Wayana especially prize the long brilliant red and blue tail feathers of the macaw for the crown of a headdress, although these are not the only ones to be used. Each headdress is carefully composed of different sorts of feathers selected from specified parts of a wide variety of birds that provide the artist with a range of colors covering the entire spectrum. indeed the Indians have been known to find even this range inadequate and to tint the feathers they use in order to get the exact shade they require. In looking at the arrangement of form and color in the headdress, we can feel the world of the Guiana jungles and see that world through the eyes of the man who tried to summarize it in this work of art.

5.  YARN MOSAIC, “HOW DATURA PERSON WAS DEFEATED”, mid 20th century, commercial yarn and beeswax on board, Huichol, Mexican highlands, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. Poster.

The Huichols live in the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains in Mexico. They speak a language similar to the language spoken by the ancient Aztecs, They practice a religion that is very, very old. The part of Mexico where the Huichols live is very hard to reach. There are few roads and the Huichols travel from place to place by walking.

The yarn paintings are not like other Huichol art works such as embroideries, weavings, beautiful jewelry and decorated gourd bowls, The yarn paintings are mostly made by those Huichols who have come down from the mountains to living in the cities and are sold to the tourists who visit Mexico. The yarn paintings tell stories about the gods and important events in the history and lives of the Huichols, The designs are made by pressing different colors of yarn into beeswax that has been warmed by the Sun and spread over a piece of wood. This yarn painting depicts the defeat of a powerful and dangerous sorcerer by Our Elder Mother Deer in the First Times.

6. WEAVERS ,1980, Lawrence Nelson, photograph, Museum object.  

Market day brings whole families to Guatemala City from the countryside. Wearing colorful costumes, people come ‘from as far as 20 miles to sell things they have raised. They bring vegetables, chickens eggs etc. as well as beautiful cloth and yarns. Sometimes they have to ride in ox carts to reach the city. Even children must do their share of the work. In this photo we see the busy vendors and the customers milling around the market place.

 

7. Frida Kahlo (Self-Portrait), 1925-1954, Frida Kahlo, Mexican (1907-54) oil on canvas, Reproduction print.  

Frida Kahlo was born Magdelena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderòn, in Coyoacàn, Mexico City. Her mother was Mexican and her father, born in Germany, had settled there. She began painting almost by chance, as her parents hoped she would study to become a doctor. However, her fate was sealed when she was involved in a serious traffic accident in 1925. As a result, Frida spent long stretches of time, throughout her life, in hospital and she underwent numerous operations. it was during one of her periods of convalescence that she began to paint and discovered that she had a remarkable talent.

Her immobility limited her access to a wide variety of subject matter and as a result many of her paintings are self-portraits. They are often autobiographical, for instance, the works My Birth and Henry Ford Hospital (both 1932). She married the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera in 1929 and their relationship was reportedly a tempestuous one. This intense relationship was also represented in her paintings.

Kahlo was greatly influenced by native Mexican folk art, and by Andre Breton and Surrealism. She met Breton in 1938 and he and Marcel Duchamp promoted her work in Paris and in America. interestingly, it was not until 1953, a year before she died, that an important exhibition of her work was staged in Mexico. For many people Frida Kahlo embodies Mexican art; her home was donated to the country after her death and serves as a museum.

 

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