Pre-Columbian, North Coast of Peru, Sican / Lambayeque, ca. 10th to 11th century CE. A haunting gilded silver (87% pure) death mask with a broad face, black painted almond-shaped eyes, and a three-dimensional nose. The chin is sharply pointed and the face is constructed from two pieces of silver sheet that are held together with gilded silver "staples". Similarly, the ears and large round earrings are also held in place with "staples" - with many of the original staples remaining. Fascinatingly, two broad bands of cinnabar pigment decorate the face - one across the cheeks, just under the eyes, and the other vertical down from the nose to the tip of the chin, giving the face a colorful appearance. Size of mask: 11.5" W x 7.5" H (29.2 cm x 19 cm); size of frame: 20.25" W x 16.25" H (51.4 cm x 41.3 cm); silver is 87% pure
The mask was not intended to represent an individual, but rather a stylized deity, as all of the known masks from the region follow a very similar formula. In this way, the deceased could readily assume a godly identity. Sican elites were patrons of workshops that made fine metal objects like this, and they took their wealth with them when they passed away. Buried in mounds, these individuals would be entombed in high style. At the site of Batan Grande, for example, a single burial could include up to five masks - one on the head, and the others at the feet. Masks like the one featured here were placed in graves alongside headdresses, scepters, crowns, and ceremonial weapons.
Provenance: private California, USA collection; ex-Arte Primitivo, New York, USA, acquired 15 years ago
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Piece has not been examined outside of its frame. Small tears to peripheries and the delicate silver sheet has been slightly crumpled/bent as shown, notably on the nose. Several of the silver "staples" that held the different components together have been replaced in modern times. In a modern frame.