Burial Mask, Peru

Burial mask
Lambayeque, Peru
900-1100 CE
Gold, copper, pigment
35 x 44 cm
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Maremont, Chicago, to American Friends of the Israel Museum
Accession number: B79.0935
Photo © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

The Lambayeque culture, once called Sican ("house of the moon") evolved on the north of Peru's coast. The enormous archaeological complex of the Batan Grande region at the northern edge of the Lambayeque valley includes more than fifty sites. One of them has at least twenty major constructions, along with other architectural features, including mural paintings and some of the richest tombs known in pre-Hispanic South America. The royal burial sites discovered by local people in the 1950s contained more than two hundred objects made of gold and silver.
The wealth and splendor of the Lambayeque rulers can be seen in this magnificent mask, which may have been used during the funerary rituals for a noble and left over his face, or attached to a mummy bundle or statue, as suggested by a number of holes along its sides. The geometric and zoomorphic dangles added bright and glittering details.

A frequent motif on Lambayeque masks is a broad frontal face with comma-shaped eyes and a straight nose with flaring nostrils. It has been suggested that this face, which appears in other objects from the culture, is that of a Sican deity or of their legendary ruler, Naymlap.There are more ethnohistorical sources about this area of Peru than about other pre-Inca regions in the Andes. A well-known legend tells of Naymlap, who was said to have come by balsa raft to the Lambayeque valley, where he established a royal lineage that was thought to have ruled the region until the Chimu conquest in the fourteenth century.

Zalmona, Yigal, ed., The Israel Museum at 40: Masterworks of Beauty and Sanctity, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2005
The Israel Museum, Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2005
Beauty and Sanctity: the Israel Museum at 40. A Series of Exhibitions Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2006

The Beauty of Sanctity: Masterworks from Every Age, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Spring-Summer 2005