Princeton University Art Museum Acquires Andean Painted Textile

The Princeton University Art Museum has acquired an early, rare and important Chimú painted textile panel from the Late Intermediate Period (about A.D. 1200-1290). The large, unusually well-preserved cotton fragment is one section of the famous Chimú Prisoner Textile, considered among the greatest extant Chimú painted textiles.

The Chimú culture comprised an Amerindian people that inhabited the northern coast of Peru, A.D. 1100-1400. Their highly developed urban culture lasted until the last Chimú king, Minchançaman, was captured by the Inkas.

The Chimú painted panel becomes the most important Andean textile in the Museum’s collection of art of the ancient Americas. Textiles and metalwork are widely considered the most significant artistic media of ancient Peru.

“This is a work of great scholarly value – rich with potential for a variety of analyses,” said Bryan R. Just, the Museum’s Peter Jay Sharp, Class of 1952, Curator and Lecturer in the Art of the Ancient Americas. “Its vibrant colors and excellent preservation make this object a major addition to our growing collections of Andean textiles.

“The textile is both aesthetically impressive in its dazzling use of color and rhythmic design, as well as likely recording a historical event, which is a great rarity among ancient material culture from Peru, a region without writing until the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century,” Just added.

The Chimú Prisoner Textile was studied and documented by Junius Bird of the American Museum of Natural History in the early 1960s. The work depicts the ritual procession of prisoners and important individuals within ceremonial inner patios and courtyards of significant buildings, calling to mind the massive adobe complexes at the Chimú capital city of Chan Chan. Although likely associated with a burial, the complete textile was reportedly discovered in its own enclosure with a stone lid. Bird hypothesized that it originally measured approximately 105 feet long and 6 feet wide.

This particular panel was one of only two known fragments still in private hands; all others have long been held by major U.S. and European museums.

The Princeton Textile fragment measures 73 1/4 inches by 64 inches. Its central motif is a large human figure with rope around his neck, a pronounced exposed phallus, and a North coast-style “nightcap” turban. He is surrounded by concentric quadrangular sections of additional captives – both nude males and skirted females – small rodents, and S-shaped double-headed serpents.

The textile panel’s color design is made of several organic dyes. Based on analyses of other contemporaneous Chimú textiles, it is suspected that the blue is indigo, the red is cochineal, the yellow is one of several possible plant species, and the green – an exceptionally rare dye color in ancient Andean textiles – is likely a mix of the yellow and indigo.

“The dyes color only one side of the thin, finely woven textile,” Just noted, “suggesting either very careful preparation of the dyes and/or the use of some kind of resist to protect the reverse.”

The painted textile panel was acquired by the Princeton University Art Museum from Sotheby’s, New York, for an undisclosed sum. It is expected to go on view later this year in the Museum galleries.

Chimú, Central coast, Peru, Late Intermediate period, A.D. 1200-1290: The Chimú Prisoner Textile (fragment). Cotton with red, ochre, green and blue pigments, 186 x 162.5 cm. Princeton University Art Museum. Image courtesy Sothebys, Inc.

For information, call (609) 258-3788 or visit the Museum’s Web site at

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