11 x 19 inches
Gift of Alfred C. Glassell, Jr.Arts of Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean
Large gold masks were found in the graves of important Sicán rulers and shamans. The masks were covered with cinnabar, a toxic mineral whose red color was associated with blood, agricultural fertility, and the moon. These masks often wear large ear ornaments and nose dangles.
From 800 to 1350, the Sicán culture inhabited the Pacific coast of present-day northern Peru. This harsh, dry region was subject to periods of violent droughts and floods. Seeking supernatural help to ensure their survival, the Sicán fashioned gold artworks that were eventually placed in large numbers in graves as offerings.
Sicán gold art is elaborate, possessing inlays of precious stone and shell, filigree, feather mosaic, paint, and complementary combinations of silver and gold. A deity that researchers have called the Sicán Lord was a popular image on these artworks. It is believed that the large gold masks found in graves depicted the Sicán Lord.