Inca
Ica Valley, south coast, Peru
Beaker
Late 15th/early 16th century

Gold
16.5 x 6.4 cm (6 1/2 x 2 1/2 in.)
Kate S. Buckingham Endowment, 1955.2587

The Inca were noted for their superior organizational and administrative skills, which they used to control their large domain. They believed their rulers to be descended from the sun, which was symbolized by gold. Silver was associated with the moon. Gold vessels such as this beaker were the personal property of Inca nobles. Like jewelry, such vessels were signs of rank and class and their ownership and use was controlled by strict rules.

The simple but elegant form of the beaker, the body of which was fashioned into a human face, is an exceptional example of the Inca skill in the hammered gold technique. In making the beaker, artisans started with a flat sheet of gold and copper alloy. This sheet was then slowly "raised" by hammering it around a wooden cylindrical mold. A separate mold carved as a face was introduced at the midway point. The lower molds were then removed and another flared shape was employed to continue the work of raising the beaker to its final height. Finally the beaker was polished to achieve a lustrous surface.

The simple, geometric shapes and undecorated surface of the beaker are typical of the Incan style in metalwork. The beaker was completed around 1500, shortly before the Incan empire was overtaken by the Spanish, led by Francisco Pizarro in the 1530s.

Chimú
North coast, Peru
Ceremonial Knife (Tumi)
1100/1470

Gold with turquoise inlay
34 x 12.7 cm (13 3/8 x 5 in.)
Ada Turnbull Hertle Endowment, 1963.841

Ceremonial objects of gold such as the tumi were also used by nobles to indicate authority and status in Lambayeque culture, which preceded that of the Incas on the north coast of Peru.

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