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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Sican Funerary Mask – Peru

WLA metmuseum Sican Funerary Mask Peru 3

Sican Funerary Mask – Peru

This Sican Funerary Mask once adorned the body of a deceased ruler on Peru’s north coast. This mask was made of an alloy of gold (74%), silver (20%), and copper (6%), which was hammered into a flat sheet and shaped into the form of a facemask. Cinnabar, a red mineral pigment, covers parts of this mask in the pattern of the face paint worn by the deceased person in life. Much of the red dye would have been removed in modern times to highlight the gold in the mask.

The eyes of this mask have thin, skewer-like projections emerging from the pupils to suggest vision. Hanging ornament from the eyes and the nose were used to convey a sense of movement and life. Multiple masks were placed into burials of eminent figures. One mask was attached to the head of the wrapped body, and other masks were laid at the feet of the deceased.

Sican Culture

Sican is the name given to the culture of the people who inhabited what is now the north coast of Peru between about 750 and 1375. Sican, which means the “Temple of the Moon,” also called Lambayeque culture, after the name of the region in Peru. Their religious ideology underpinned the structure of their theocratic state.

This Sican Funerary Mask comes from the Middle Sican period, which lasted from 900 to 1100. This period of cultural eminence was marked by the emergence of various cultural innovations in the areas of art, technology, funerary customs, trade, cities, temples, and the structure and authority of the state. These innovations give evidence that the Sicán culture had a highly productive economy and an influential religious ideology.

Sican Funerary Mask – Peru

  • Title:                Sican Funerary Mask – Peru
  • Date:               10th–12th century
  • Geography:   Peru, North Coast
  • Materials:      Gold, silver-copper overlays, cinnabar
  • Culture:          Lambayeque (Sicán)
  • Dimensions:  H: 11 1/2 in.  W: 19 1/2 in. D: 4 in. (29.2 × 49.5 × 10.2 cm)
  • Museum:        Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

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“From the tree of silence,
hangs the fruit of tranquillity.

– Peruvian Proverb

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Photo Credit: 1) By Wikipedia Loves Art participant “futons_of_rock” [CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

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