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Funerary Mask (work of art)

Artwork Info

Created
circa 1000–1534
Artist
Unknown Artist (Peruvian, North Coast, Sican or Chimú culture)
Dimensions
6 1/2 x 9 inches (16.5 x 22.9 centimeters)

Credit

Gift of Refford and Charlotte W. Cate

Culture
Ancient American

Key Ideas about this Work of Art

  • This Sicán funerary mask is from the North Coast of Peru. It is made up of three sheets of hammered gold metal that are held together by tiny metal pieces similar to staples. A thin layer of red mineral covers most of the cheeks and forehead. The pupils of the eyes are round, blue-green beads, each with one small hole in the center. The details of the face include wing-shaped eyes, a three-dimensional nose and mouth, and two circular earpieces. 
  • The Sicán people lived along the North Coast of Peru from about 700 to 1370. The Sicán are also sometimes referred to as the Lambayeque. The word “Lambayeque” (pronounced lam-ba-yeck-eh) comes from a myth about their founder, Naymlap, and his green-stone idol called LLampallec.
  • The chronology of the ancient Sicán culture is divided into three periods: the Early Sicán period (750 to 900 C.E.), the Middle Sicán period (900 to 1100 C.E.), and the Late Sicán period (1100 to 1375 C.E.). The Sicán is best known for its extraordinary metalwork produced during the middle period. 
  • Like the ancient Egyptians, the Sicán used to mummify their deceased. The mummies in Peru were meant to keep a physical representation of an individual’s status and power after they died. 

Learn More

This Sicán funerary mask is made from a type of gold metal that was abundant to the Sicán. Its color indicates that it is an alloy, or mixture of metals. During the time in which it was made, the mixture of metals would have most likely been gold, silver, and copper. Artifacts of this kind are reported to have been used to adorn the bodies of deceased rulers inside their burial spots. The underside of the mask shows faint traces of the wrappings that once enveloped the mummy. The detailed facial painting indicates the high status of the individual. Since mummification was used to preserve the power of the deceased individuals, scholars believe funerary masks were created to help the deceased embody the power of the Sicán deities or divine rulers.

 

A thin layer of red mineral (possibly iron oxide) covers most of the cheeks and forehead of this funerary mask. The blue-green beads in the center of the eyes are most likely made of turquoise. Similar funerary masks, with the same type of eyes, have been found during archaeological excavations. The mask’s form is consistent with the Lambayeque (Sicán) style, which features upturned or “winged” eyes, a prominent nose, thin mouth, and round ornaments on the ears. There are two tiny holes in each side of the mask, which may have been punched into the metal to attach danglers to it.

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Images

  • A gold metal mask of a human-like face, with blue-green eyes and streaks of red paint on the cheeks and forehead.

    Funerary Mask by

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