Mantle (Peruvian, Paracas, 0–A.D. 100)

Mantle, camelid plain weave with stem-stitch embroidery; fringe. John H. and Ernestine A. Payne Fund (1972.353). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

NOW ON VIEW (Ancient South America Gallery, LG33)

This stunning mantle dated to 0–A.D. 100 is created using linear style embroidery, one of three dominant styles expressed by Paracas textile artists (for another example of linear style embroidery, see this poncho). Linear style is highly abstracted in contrast to block color style, which is visually more pictorial (see this border fragment for block color style). In the linear style, Paracas embroiderers rendered imagery with straight lines of stitches running in parallel rows, in both horizontal and vertical directions, true to the matrix of warp and weft threads in its woven cloth ground. The background was filled in first, with images emerging as negative forms; these were then outlined with contrasting colored yarns in a restricted palette; usually 3-4 colors at most. This method of applying embroidery yarns, faithfully aligned with the binary units of its woven foundation, produced ideographic patterns that appear to be woven rather than embroidered.

The label copy for this impressive textile, just recently been placed on view, tells us this Paracas mantle is among only a handful known to survive.

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Object a Week is a revolving showcase of MFA textile collections. A featured object may be indicative of the author’s study focus at a given moment and/or related to topics of research, activity, or recent acquisitions in the Museum’s Textile and Fashion Arts department. For more in-depth explorations of the collection, see A Closer Look.