A sican mask in silver embellished with golden decorations and red cinnabar. it is a mask of exceptional craftsmanship, and would have been reserved for the use of the most prominent members of sican society. it is finely adorned with relief decorations surrounding the eyes and ears (a peculiarity of the most precious specimens). the mask is painted with natural pigments which have been almost completely preserved. few examples are in such optimal condition_lambayeque valley, southern peruvian coast_17 x 25 cm_provenance: collection n.m., c.a.collection, usa_references: metropolitan museum (new york), museo nacional de antropologia (mexico city).
The Sican culture inhabited what is now the north coast of Peru between A.D. 750 and 1375. Sican means “temple of the moon”. The Sican culture is also referred to as Lambayeque culture, after the name of the region in Peru. It succeeded the Moche culture. According to the tradition of many Andean peoples, the most important men’s mummies were adorned with masks of which the quality and beauty were proportional to the Dead’s social status and wealth. Surviving masks are found to be made from a variety of materials, including wood, ceramics and cloth. Only the masks intended for the most powerful and important people were created with precious metals such as gold and silver. Some of these masks were also painted with red cinnabar, a pigment that was believed to be a protection for the Dead once beyond the world. In some countries of South America people still believe that the colour red embodies some protective qualities. A peculiarity of the Sican Mask, which has not as yet been completely understood, is the jutting decoration over the eyes. Some experts assume that it could represent the Dead’s particular expressive qualities. Silver masks such as that proposed here have usually been pre-served by burial inside tombs. Nevertheless, the burial could have been only the last step of a mask’s use. It is supposed that the mask could have been worn by its owner during his earth-ly life. If that is indeed the case the person who wore the mask, could only have imagined the beauty of the adornment, since the mask had no opening for the eyes! The face represented on the mask was considered a direct link between the earthly and the divine world, connecting the man who wore it to the main Sican Divinity.
LITERATURE: Jan Mitchell, Julie Jones, The Art of Pre-Colum- bian Gold, The Jan Mitchell Collection, Metropolitan Muse-um, New York Graphic Society, 1985; VV.AA.,An Integrated Analysis of Pre-Hispanic Moruary Practices: A Middle Sican Case Study,Current Archaeology