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100 Highlights
of the MFAH
Take a tour through some of the most significant objects in the MFAH collections. On these pages, you can browse 100 highlights from collections throughout the institution. Then visit the MFAH in person to discover your own favorites.
 
 
 
SICAN
Peru, north coast
Mask
800-1350
Gold

11 x 19 inches

 
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Alfred C. Glassell, Jr.

Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, & the Americas

Arts of Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean
The Glassell Collections of African, Indonesian & Pre-Columbian Gold
 
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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.