Inca Art Forms
Inca art was practical. The Incas were an artistic people who used materials available to them in nature and blended them creating many artistic forms in utilitarian ways. Much of their artistic expression was used in everyday life and had a religious meaning. Because they did not know science they had to attach powers to natural phenomena worshiping natural resources such as water streams or rocks, animals and almost anything related to nature and the best way to worship was to incorporate their best artistic creations in their offerings to the gods. A good example of art in a tradition that has endured the passing of the years is the Inti Raymi or celebration of the Sun. In this celebration Inca descendants produce the most elaborate costumes in rich cotton textile and offer gifts to the Sun such as food and jewelry.
The Sun or Inti was the most important god in the Inca empire and since gold shone like the sun it was the metal that was used the most in religious ceremonies. Therefore they made vases and plates to serve food to the gods, jewelry for the nobility, knifes known as Tumis for sacrificing animals and performing surgery, they decorated their temples with sheets of gold and made altars of solid gold.
Inca art was inherited from cultures that predated the Inca Empire by thousands of years. They took what they thought was important and useful from them and perfected it adapting forms of art to their own needs and likes. The Inca people were skillful craftsmen who worked in ayllus producing work for the empire. There were ayllus that specialized in certain type of art such as pottery making or weaving. Their production would be taken to all parts of the empire and distributed, like a centralized economy. There were well specialized artisans working on art pieces such as jewelry and clothing for the nobility and the Sapa Inca. Such workers or artists were the acllas who were the Chosen Women, picked among the most beautiful young females in the empire.
Inca art gives us an understanding of how the Incas lived as they did not leave written records of their history. Everything we know about their lives have been passed on in oral form from generation to generation and from the interpretations of artifacts discovered by archeologist. Andean countries such as Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador have inherited these forms of art which is imbedded in their culture and can be seen in their current arts and crafts usually sold in craft markets.
It is commonly questioned as to how the Incas were able to develop such an exquisite architecture without the use of the wheel and modern tools. Their buildings have withstood five centuries in an earthquake prone zone and provided the foundations of many current buildings.
One of the reasons Inca architecture was successful was the organization of its society and labor. Through ayllus and mita labor or tribute they were able to organize their manpower in extraordinary numbers necessary to build such labor intensive monuments. The strongest males were chosen and it was an honor to be part of the team as they were building temples dedicated to Inca Gods. More about Inca Architecture
Inca art – Inca textile and clothing
Ancient Andean weaving developed by pre-Inca civilizations and inherited and perfected by the Incas is considered as one of the greatest textile in the world and is compared to finest textile developed by the ancient Egyptians.The Incas used cotton, the wool of alpacas, llamas and the superior and rare wool of vicuñas and guanacos. Clothing made of the wool of vicuñas and guanacos was exclusively for the Inca and the nobility.
In ancient Inca culture the development of the textile industry and trade had an important role in society and politics. Even though the Incas did not parallel the artistic development of some of its predecessors they did develop mass production which allowed its redistribution throughout the empire. More about Inca textile and clothing
Inca art – Inca Pottery
The best example of pottery produced before the days of the Inca Empire is found in the ceramic produced by the Moche or Mochica culture that thrived from 100 to 700 AD in the northern Peruvian coast.
During the Inca Empire the production of pottery in the Andes was an art already developed in the region for thousands of years. One characteristic of Inca pottery is that it did not portray the human form, unlike other cultures that thrived before them, instead they used geometric patterns and shapes and heads of animals. The production and the use of pottery during the Inca Civilization had two purposes, utilitarian and ceremonial.
Inca art – Inca jewelry
Most of the Inca gold jewelry and artifacts was looted by the Spanish conquerors, melted and taken away to Spain. The largest part of the pieces shown in museums have been found by archeologist in burial grounds. They show us to a great extent the meaning and use of jewelry in the Inca civilization.
During the Inca Empire gold was an abundant metal used to make artifacts and jewelry. The Incas believed that the gold shone like the sun and so to honor their main god, Inti, they wore it and decorated their temples with it. Gold jewelry was a measure of social status and to the proximity to god. The Sapa Inca, members of the royal family, priests and government authorities would wear jewelry on a daily basis. Commoners would ware it only in special occasions such as in religious ceremonies and special celebrations. More about Inca Jewelry
Inca Art – Inca Music
The Incas had two types of musical instruments, wind and percussion. String musical instruments were introduced by the Spanish and adapted to their music repertoire. Music reached all corners of the empire and all social classes. The Incas used one word “taqui” to describe dance, music and singing, though this word in Quechua means “song”. Their music was pentatonic; they based their music in the combination of five notes re, fa, sol, la and do.
More about Inca and Andean Music
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