Inca shirt

Pulse para ampliar

Dated: 1501-1600

Cultural Context: Inca-Colonial style.

Origin: Pachacamac, Central Coast. Peru (South America)

Medium: Camelid fibre, Cotton

Technique: Interlaced tapestry, Eccentric wefts, Needle embroidery

Dimensions: Height = 91 cm; Width = 78.50 cm

Inventory no.: 14501

Men's shirt or uncu with a central opening for the head and side openings for the arms. The ornamentation is arranged in four quadrants of contrasting colours in which the same floral pattern is repeated. This motif could represent a stylised angel’s trumpet (Brugmasia vulcanícola), a shrub with large bell-shaped flowers; this plant had hallucinogenic properties and was associated with Inca royalty and high nobility. Similarly, it could be a representation of the so-called cantuta flower, used in the initiation ceremonies of young Inca royalty (Jiménez, 2002). The geometric motifs of the horizontal bands are tocapus, symbols that could be related to the heraldry and genealogies of the main Inca families (Eeckhout and Danis 2004). In general, the overall composition of the design, divided into four quadrants, alludes to the four parts of the Tahuantinsuyu or Inca Empire.

As Jiménez (2009) points out, this shirt, known as the "Museum of the Americas uncu", is a unique piece of its kind. The notable concentration of symbols present in its decoration, as well as the different areas with signs of use and the presence of repairs (in the neckline with camelid fibre and in the openings for the arms with silver thread) show that the uncu was probably used for ceremonial or festive contexts of special importance, and that it was preserved with special care over a long period of time. Likewise, the presence of metallic threads and a certain pictorial trend in the representation of the floral motifs allow us to estimate an early date within the colonial period for its manufacture. All this leads us to highlight the value of this garment as a relic and symbol of the prestigious Inca past.