The Larco Museum
26 June 2012
Today I visited the Museo Larco, which, in terms of curation and the care of the collection, is everything that the Gold Museum should have been and was not (or, at least, no longer is). The Gold Museum allows its treasures to languish in crowded display cases with little or no documentation; the Museo Larco has a building that is both beautiful and spacious, with large and attractive displays, as well as descriptions of the objects displayed in (if I remember correctly) six different languages.
I had read that the Larco Museum is the largest collection of ceramics in South America, and part of the museum consists of shelf-upon-shelf and room after room of pre-Columbian ceramics. This part of the collection is something that only someone with expertise could fully appreciate, and it is not laid out in the same spacious and informative manner of the rest of the collection. In any case, there are a lot of ceramics here, including the jar pictured below painted with insect motifs. Some of the animal motifs are so realistic that one recognizes them immediately, without any hesitation; other are either sufficiently stylized or unfamiliar to me to recognize immediately; still others shade over into biomorphic representations of gods or men so that one must understand the scene depicted in order to be able to identify its elements.
While the museum collection is mostly ceramics in terms of absolute numbers, the galleries aren’t dominated by the ceramics, and there are in addition gold and silver artifacts, jewelry, weavings, statuary, and a couple of examples of Quipu, which was the Inca record-keeping system consisting of elaborately tied and knotted strings. Because of the usually dry conditions of the Peruvian coast (a result of the cold Humboldt current), quite a number of exquisite pre-Columbian textiles have been preserved, many of which formerly were wrapped about mummies in the dry desert conditions south of Lima. I was particularly interested in the textile pictured below.
When I saw the textile above I was immediately reminded of the Överhogdal tapestry in Sweden (pictured below), both because of some of the distinctive colors employed in the weaving and the preponderance of rhombic-shaped figures. I suspect that the rhombic figures are an artifact of the weaving process, and that the Peruvian weaving above and the Viking weaving pictured below involved similar techniques. Both are very different from, for example, the sinuous Gothic lines of the Bayeux tapestry, which represents a very different technique of stitching the figures onto the cloth rather than weaving the figures directly into the warp and weft of the cloth.
Whatever the similarities between pre-Columbian Peruvian textiles and pre-Christian Scandinavian textiles, I am not suggesting any link other than their shared status of objects of human craftsmanship. No doubt an expert could point out many global similarities that I have missed, as well as many subtle differences that I failed to notice.
The Museo Larco is probably the best museum in Lima, and even though I arrived near the end of the day, there were still tour buses arriving to discharge their human cargo, which gives some sense of the stature of the museum. I read mixed reviews on the internet, and when I think of some of these “reviews” after having seen the collection myself I am chagrined. I would say without hesitation that if you see only one museum in Lima, make it the Museo Larco.
In the evening I finally had the opportunity to visit a bookstore here, as I always enjoy looking at the philosophy sections in books stores to see what people are reading. I prefer looking at used book stores, but I haven’t found one yet, but I found a large enough new book store that it had a couple of bookcases of philosophical titles, and it was interesting to see that the titles available were quite wide-ranging and did not represent any kind of partisan or ideological selection. There were many titles by authors whose names I have never heard and did not recognize. I should have taken notes of these names. Maybe later. I was scolded by a member of the staff for taking pictures inside the store, so I left soon after.
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