April 25, 2013

'Peru' makes way to Montreal


---- — MONTREAL — On its spring docket, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts embarks on a sumptuous and mystical journey to Peru.

Currently on display is “Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon,” an exhibition that explores some 3,000 years of Peruvian history with an impressive display of more than 370 artifacts, including a number of major works.

The exhibit begins with a time line that covers the Pre-Columbian, Pre-Colonial, Colonial and Independence eras of the South American country. Setting the scene is a striking room-sized video of Machu Picchu, the ancient and sacred Inca site found high atop the Andes Mountains. There, visitors are introduced to an archaeologist who’s who associated with Peruvian antiquities and history that includes Hiram Bingham, the Yale University archaeologist who discovered the site in 1911.

It’s soon on to sacrifices of the human and animal kind.

Through the topic of Andean Cosmology, the exhibit tells of human sacrifices that helped establish a connection to the supernatural world. The accompanying text states that most Pre-Columbian societies participated in the practice. In fact, the ceremony was considered one of the most important events of the ritual calendar. On display, a number of artifacts explore the ritual, including a ceramic figurine that depicts the goddess of the sacrificial ceremony. The piece dates from 100 A.D. to 800 A.D.

The Ceremonial Procession and Ancestor Worship topics look at the higher-ranking officials who ruled early Peruvian society. Theirs was filled with funeral processions fit for a king as well as some pretty fancy finery. In a word: gold.

Examples of gold necklaces, masks and body ornaments on display are enough to make any modern-day jeweler weep with envy. A showcased ornate headdress and accompanying body ornament, which covered the neck and pecs from shoulder to shoulder, dates from about 1000 A.D. to 1476 A.D. 

A major shift in ideology as well as artifact appearance takes a turn in the exhibit time line with the arrival of the Spanish Conquest. This colonial era is marked to the year 1532, when Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro captured Atahualpa, the last Inca emperor, according to the text.

A number of works highlight the arrival of the Catholic doctrine into the region, from a “Trifacial Trinity” credited to the Cuzco School during the mid-1700s, to an ornate Eucharistic urn hand sculpted into the shape of a pelican. Made of silver and gemstones, the piece is about 3 feet tall. 

The exhibit continues to present day with early to mid-20th century photography, contemporary works, graphic arts and popular art. This gallery added a modern touch to the ancient artifacts displayed.

On a final note, and perhaps most important, the exhibit explores the seedier side of art and archaeology with an exploration of the world of art trafficking. Taking its turn as the exhibition’s centerpiece artifact is a golden Mochica octopus, which is dubbed the “Peruvian Mona Lisa.” The work, an ornate eight-tentacled forehead ornament made of gold, was discovered during an illegal excavation of the La Mina tomb, which was extensively pillaged in the late 1980s.

“Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon” continues through Sunday, June 16.

Also highlighted this season, the museum’s Graphic Arts Centre explores the art of contemporary and old-school drawings with “In These Drawings, My Hands are Dreaming” and “From the Hands of the Masters.” Both continue through Sunday, July 7, and both are free. 

Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at

IF YOU GO WHAT: "Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon." WHEN: Through Sunday, June 16. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends. The "Peru" exhibition is also open until 9 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays. WHERE: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is at 1380 Sherbrooke St. W. in Montreal. ADMISSION: $20 for adults. Discounts available for students and seniors. Admission to the permanent collection is always free. CONTACT: Call (514) 285-2000, or visit