In its shape and materials, this small 17th-century tunic resembles those woven in the 16th century—soon after the Spanish conquistadors first came to the Andes. The size of this tunic suggests it was worn by an Andean child or by the sculpted image of a saint de vestir. The practice of weaving male tunics stretches far into the pre-Hispanic past; many Andean communities, both ancient and contemporary, are well-known for their textiles of cotton and camelid fiber, the same materials used to create this tunic. While some design elements, such as the embroidered tocapu, have indigenous, Andean origins, the heraldic lions and orb with cross woven into this textile are fully post-conquest motifs. The lions would have been inspired bythe Habsburg coat of arms, the orb and cross by Christian imagery. The color scheme, with its saturated blues, purples, and dark reds, may well owe its origins to colonial aesthetic preferences developed among elite Andeans, the very people who would have commissioned works like this.
At the bottom of the tunic, alphabetic lettering spells out (in reverse) the name “Diego Dias.” These words may refer to the tunic’s patron, and if so, their appearance personalizes the tunic, an interesting point since so many Andean textiles were woven anonymously. The name also reveals something of the weaver’s working method. This garment was double-faced: meticulously woven so that both sides were finished. Its maker chose the side that faced away from her on the loom as the outside of the garment, and an incidental effect of this decision is reversed lettering. Nonetheless, the name “Diego Dias” also shows one way that alphabetic lettering was used by native people, revealing a familiarity with, and commitment to alphabetic expression, especially for a garment meant to be worn in a Christian setting. And if this tunic was, indeed, donned by a saint’s figure, then it also evokes a colonial culture at once strongly indigenous and Christian—a combination born of political and military force but cultivated in unique ways by the indigenous residents of Spanish America.
Phipps, Elena. 2004. “Tunic (unku) for a child or a statue.” The Colonial Andes: Tapestries and Silverwork, 1530-1830. Elena Phipps, Johanna Hecht and Cristina Esteras Martín, eds. Pp. 270-272. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Pillsbury, Joanne. 2002. “Inka Unku: Strategy and Design in Colonial Peru.” Cleveland Studies in the History of Art 7: 68-103.
Pillsbury, Joanne. 2006. “Inka Colonial Tunics: A Case Study of the Bandelier Set.” Andean Textile Traditions: Papers from the 2001 Mayer Center Symposium. M. Young Sánchez and F. W. Simpson, eds. Denver: Denver Art Museum.