Gold and the Incas: Lost Worlds of Peru
Minister for Culture of Peru Diana Alvarez-Calderon at the preview of major summer exhibition, Gold and the Incas: Lost worlds of Peru opens at the National Gallery of Australia. Photo: Jay Cronan
From shining gold to brilliant feathers, beaten silver and evocative sculpted heads, ancient Peru was a place of drama, beauty and lots of bling.
And some of the most spectacular pieces are now on display at the National Gallery of Australia as part of its much-anticipated summer blockbuster, Gold and the Incas: Lost Worlds of Peru, which opens on Friday.
The gallery has borrowed more than 200 pieces from 10 Peruvian museums to stage the major survey of ancient artefacts, most of which have been recovered from burial sites across the country.
From elaborate gold and silver facial ornaments, to vivid woven shrouds and ceramic carvings, the gallery's large exhibition space has been transformed into a dark and brilliant shrine to the ancient South American artists.
Peruvian minister for culture Diana Alvarez-Calderon, who is in Australia for just four days, said the show had given her a newfound appreciation of her own culture.
"I'm pretty much amazed and of course it's an honour for Peru to be here, showing such beautiful pieces," she said.
"Really when you see so many pieces in Peru, you can't imagine how well they will look outside. It's like seeing it from afar. When you're near your culture and you see its daily problems in each place, the difficulties to preserve archaeological sites, you have little time to watch the beauty of all that we have," she said.
She said it was easy for Peruvians to take their culture and heritage for granted, and that the show had given her ideas to take back and use to develop a major new archaeological exhibition in Lima.
"When you come outside and you walk through such a very well done exhibition, you say to yourself, that is what we should be doing in Peru," she said.
"These things call to Peruvians so they can appreciate what they have in their own country."
Included in the show are works from 18 different cultures, and the oldest piece, a carving from a temple of a winged deity holding a severed head, is 3000 years old.
And while many of the pieces were worn by and buried with the country's rulers and noblemen, there are also more humble pieces, such as a woolly llama that was probably buried with a llama herder.
There are also pots carved into the shape of corn and potatoes, both native to Peru, to be used in the afterlife.
Assistant curator Simeran Maxwell said working on the show had been a highlight of her career, especially when it came to the jewellery.
"The thing that people won't be able to realise is that all the little pieces move, so when you unpack them and they come out of the crates, they sort of jangle in the light, and it's just a sublime experience watching it," she said.
"It's a pity we can't get a little fan in there, because you could completely appreciate what it would have been like seeing a person wearing all of this amazing stuff. It is so intricate and so delicate and the gold is so thin, you don't really appreciate that from images.
"But you can see when you look at it up close how delicate the gold is."
She said the intricacy of the gold was all the more remarkable given the Peruvians retrieved the gold from the river, and hammered it into breastplates and jewellery.
The feathered cloaks and ornaments were also remarkable, given how well preserved they were.
"Everyone says they must be dyed feathers, but they're all natural," she said.
"Thank god for Peruvian weather."
Gold and the Incas: Lost Worlds of Peru opens at the National Gallery of Australia on Friday, and runs until April 21.