When I was young, I used to watch with fascination the cartoon “the mysterious cities of gold” with Esteban, Tao and Zia. I remember well the short documentary at the end of each episode describing an aspect of life in Perù. I suppose this led me to see the exhibition “the gold of the Incas” at the Pinacothèque de Paris.
I was surprised by the quality of the craftmanship shown in this exhibition. We compare too easily other civilisations to the roman and greek civilisations. In this case, the exhibition’s goal was to let the public discover the richness of the Andes culture that is not reduced to the Inca culture as it existed before the invasion by the conquistadores. At the time, the Incas had just achieved submission from the other people of the Andes Cordillera over a large territory in South America.
In this exhibition, I really appreciated the Sicàn culture with its finely chiseled jewels in gold, silver, copper. Gold had a great importance in the Andes culture but no monetary value. It was considered as “the sun’s sweat” and was thus a powerful symbol. It can be easily understood why the Spanish conqueror thought that he found his Eldorado in the Andes, country of gold and other precious metals. In the objects made of metal I preferred the spatula for lime as lime was mixed with the chewed coca. These spatulas were decorated with small characters finely and precisely designed.
Nevertheless, the exhibition showed us other craftmanship of this civilisation in ceramics and textiles. You then can see goblets, amphorae and bottles with beautiful colors, geometric or animal patterns. I was really enthusiastic about the textiles with blue, orange or pink feathers and particularly a 3-dimensional border made of finely knitted wool that must have taken weeks to complete.
The references in the Andes culture are attached to its environment between the Andes Cordillera and the Amazon forest. Sadly, the Andes inheritance has disappeared as it didn’t use writing. It used a mnemotechnic system named quipou made of cords and knots whose code got lost during the massacres perpetrated by the Spanish invaders.
This exhibition enlarged my vision on craftmanship in others cultures as it was already the case after my visit of the national museum in Copenhague and of its Viking pieces of art.