Wari: On Feathered Panels

According to a chapter on Featherwork in Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes, textiles covered with brilliant feathers of rain forest birds are among the most striking works create by textile artists in Pre-Columbia Peru. Let’s take a more detailed looked at one of the examples from our permanent collection that is on view in the exhibition.

How is it made?
The feather panel is constructed of Papagayo macaw feathers that are knotted onto strings and stitched to cotton plain-weave cloth.

How old is it?
7th-10th century

How was it used?
This large panel, covered with plumes of the blue-and-yellow macaw, was found with ninety-five others identical to it in an offering buried on Peru's southern desert coast. The panels' original function is mysterious. Many have ties that dangle from each upper corner, giving rise to speculation that the panels served as hangings. Together they would have covered a 2,000-square-foot area, transforming it into a ceremonial space of breathtaking brilliance and spectacle. But the panels may also have been made solely as an offering, a lavish sacrifice of precious materials, time, and labor to supernatural forces.

Why should you see it?

In the 1530s, the luxurious texture and lustrous iridescence of native feathered cloth filled the Spanish conquistadores with such awe and admiration that one Spanish missionary wrote: “The gloss, splendor, and sheen of this feather cloth was of such exceptional beauty that it must be seen to be appreciated, “ from article on Featherwork by Heidi King in the exhibition catalogue.

Have more questions about this object?

King, senior research associate in the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, will discuss the sophisticated techniques developed by ancient Peruvian featherworkers on Sunday, December 2 at 2pm in a free lecture at the museum. You are welcome to bring your questions.




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