Mantle for a Woman
Peru; Inca (ca. 1450–1550 CE)
Cotton with camelid wool cording (88.97)
This piece is a rare surviving example of a complete woman’s mantle, consisting of only one panel with the loom width and selvages intact. A mantle was the only article of clothing worn by men and women. The basic shape was the same for both, though the female’s was wider and longer, often reaching past her knees.
The preserved accordion-like folds are probably original to the garment, the result of it having been folded for storage; the technique is still practiced in the Highlands near Cuzco. The bright cording around the edges is made from camelid wool and indicates the highland provenance of the piece. The very fine weaving of this textile and attention to detail indicate the high status of the owner.
A Modern Artist’s Response
This striped piece of cloth is a wonderful example of the very fine yarns the Incans were able to spin from cotton and the beautiful, subtle colors they derived from plant materials. The placement of the stripes in the middle of the cloth surrounded by large monochromatic borders is subtle and striking. It also reveals how the weaver considered the textile decoration in relation to the body it would adorn, and how the overall piece would drape and compliment the body. The blanket weave border not only indicates the cloth to be Incan, but also provides a detail that makes this piece even more beautiful—it frames the cloth to give it a more striking presence and sophistication. This notable, simple design continues to be found today, often imbued with a contemporary flavor. The continuing use of the pattern testifies to the enduring quality and practicality inspired by the weavings of earlier Peruvian cultures.
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"I still remember the feeling of awe and disbelief when I was alone and walked in the room with those casts." --Ruth Tofle, chair of architecture, winner of the 2013 distinguished faculty award from the MU Alumni Association