The Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino is touted as one of the finest museums for Pre-Columbian art in the world. The heart of the collection comes from over 50 years of a passion for collecting beautiful artefacts of all pre-Columbian cultures by Sergio Larraín García-Moreno, a Chilean avant-gardist architect. The museum, a collaboration of his foundation and the Municipality of Santiago, opened its doors to the public in December 1981.  It is housed in the stately old Palace of Justice in downtown Santiago.


Sergio Larraín’s one overwhelming critereon for a piece of art to be included in his collection was that it provoke an emotional reaction, regardless of its art historic importance or financial value. Consequently, the extensive collection contains objects of high aesthetic value from many Latin and South-American cultures, many totally unknown to most of us. To quote the website of the museum:  “It was neither the complex technical knowledge, nor the heterogeneous aboriginal economies that attracted the collector, but that far more profound and spiritual message of art”.

Some comments:

Wari (ceramic bottle with handles and portrait) and Tiwanaku (llama) were two of the biggest states on the Andes before the Inca.  Although there were many political and economic diffrences between them, which eventually ended in conflict, their art shows their close association.  The same repertoire of images and shapes are used in both states, in stone sculptures as well as in polychrome ceramics and textiles.

Moche culture vitrine: The objects that are found in the tombs of the Moche culture, and which are necessary for the deceased’s successful journey, usually refer to the power of men and animals to cause death and to feed off of it, with represenations of warriors, prisoners, birds of prey and felines.  This cultural importance of death was skillfully handled by the authorities, since these objects were made by artisans and workshops controlled by the state.  In this way, the Moche lords controlled people’s lives, as well as their passage to death.

Wooden people or Chemamull were important funeral elements of the traditional Mapuche culture. They accompanied the deceased during a ceremony where speeches were made in praise of the dead and later were set up next to the grave.  These rites strictly followed tradition since a careless funeral could mean that the deceased’s spirit, instaed of becoming an ancestor who would watch over his/her relatives, would be trapped by some witch and changed into an evil spirit.

By the way, the museum’s website is excellent in the amount of in-depth information it gives about the various cultures and objects on show.  And that goes for both the Spanish and English versions!


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