Slithering Serpents and the Afterlives of Stones: The Role of Ornament in Inka-Style Architecture of Cusco, Peru

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2005-11-22

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Serpent reliefs and other pre-Hispanic motifs occasionally appear on the façades of early colonial Inka-style masonry buildings in Cusco, the former capital of the Inka empire, although similar carvings are only rarely seen on earlier Inka architecture. This research demonstrates that while some ashlars were reused from pre-Hispanic Inka walls, the reliefs were likely carved during the colonial era. Central to this analysis is the premise that the breakdown of Inka state iconoclasm allowed native masons greater decorative license. The appearance of Andean motifs on houses built for the city's Spanish inhabitants reveals the complexity of early colonial attitudes toward indigenous culture. The carvings provide an opportunity to investigate the shifting meanings of Andean symbols during the early years of the Spanish presence in Peru. Indeed, these motifs, carved after the Inka imperial collapse, have since become iconic of "Inka-ness" and are replicated in Cusco's twentieth-century municipal architecture.

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