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Work of the Week: Breastplate

While this Peruvian breastplate boasts the same splendor and craftsmanship as European armor of the same time, its purpose was not protection. Made from gold, a relatively soft and precious metal that was used in numerous aspects of a Chimú leader’s public and private life, this striking pectoral would have been worn as an indication of power and status. In battle, rulers and warriors covered their weapons and themselves in the luminous metal, from helmets and
headdresses to face masks, nosepieces, earrings, necklaces, pendants, pectorals, breastplates, as well as armbands, wrist cuffs, and bracelets. The image repeatedly embossed on each of the linked square units on this breastplate—a bird with upraised wings—suggests an oral tradition of animal stories that served to illustrate the powers and rank of leaders.

See this stunning Breastplate and other Chimú works in Gallery 136.

Breastplate, A.D. 1000/1470. Chimú; North coast, Peru. Gift of the Antiquarian Society; Mrs. Harold T. Martin and Mrs. H. Allen Vance funds.