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.

Click for description, detail view and collection data on

Objects in Brief is a randomized showcase of the MFA, Boston’s encyclopedic Textile and Fashion Arts collections. A featured object is indicative of the author’s curiosity and chosen so she may learn about its material and structural properties, function, history, and greater story. These “quick studies” have led to more in-depth explorations posted in A Closer Look.

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