Syncretism, Sex and Death at Lima's Fabulous Museo Larco

text and photos (unless specified) by Joanna Ebenstein, founder and creative director of Morbid Anatomy 

On a recent trip to Peru, I visited one of my favorite museums in the world, Lima's privately owned Museo Larco. Its fabulous collection explores "more than 5000 years of ancient Peruvian history and the intimate bond that existed between pre-Columbian societies and the natural world."

The museum has many wonderful things including colonial paintings tracing royal lineages

And exploring the artistic products of syncretism, or, as explained in the text:

After the Spanish conquest, the process known as “the extirpation of idolatries” sought to eliminate the indigenous forms of worship and beliefs which survived the conquest. These forms were fused or blended with the new ideas which had come from Europe, and under a new guise they continued to transmit their indigenous messages. This process is known as syncretism.

Below, right, is a painting of an 18th century Cusco school Angel Harquebusier--in Spanish, Angel Arcabucero--from the museum website:

As the text explains:

Since the end of the 17th century, the representation of Angel Arcabucero appears in Cusco painting, which has no background in European art. He is dressed in the Spanish military gala uniform. According to the chroniclers of the Indies, the sound of the arcabuces - or hand thunder - used by the first conquerors made the Indians think that the Spaniards dressed in silver armor were their own gods from heaven.

The museum also has artifacts from the dizzying array or ancient cultures that once peopled present day Peru:

Including fascinating objects related to death and mummification rituals

And ritual practice.

One of the highlights of this museum is its famed "erotic gallery."  As described on the museum website:

The eroticism present in this major pottery collection evokes desire, attraction and the coming together of the opposing yet complementary forces that enable life to endlessly regenerate.

Many of the photographs below were from a section of the erotic gallery entitled "the underworld." The museum text situates these enigmatic objects, in which sexuality and death, eros and thanatos intertwine, in this way:

In the Andean world view, the beings that inhabit the different worlds interact and participate in sexual relations.
The dead are shown as sexually active beings, interacting with each other and with living people. The dead participate in sexual activities that are non-procreative, such as masturbation.
The objective of these activities is not procreation, but rather the release of semen, the fertilizing fluid that must then be offered to the earth, which is where the dead dwell.

To find out more about this excellent museum, click here. To find out more about this collection, click here. You can also see--and read--in the guide to The Museo Larco in the Morbid Anatomy Library

Hope you enjoy the photos! Let us know what you think in the comments section!


Joanna Ebenstein is a Brooklyn-based writer, curator, photographer and graphic designer. She is the creator of the Morbid Anatomy blog, library and event series, and was cofounder and creative director of the recently shuttered Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn. Her books include Death: A Graveside Companion, The Anatomical Venus and The Morbid Anatomy Anthology (with Colin Dickey). Her work explores the intersections of art and medicine, death and culture, and the objective and subjective.

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