Appliqué (Peruvian, Rimac, A.D. 1000–1476)

Appliqué (Peruvian, Rimac, A.D. 1000–1476). Cotton single interlock, dovetailed, and slit tapestry. MFA purchase from G. R. Schmidt, Anglo-South American Trust Co., 49 Broadway, New York, New York, September 3, 1931 (31.710). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This fish tapestry appliqué is alternatively identified as a votive panel in Animal Myth and Magic: Images from Pre-Columbian Textiles by Vanessa Drake Moraga. The panel, dating to 1000-1476 A.D., has 26 finished sides and is emblematic of highly skilled technical abilities: possessed not only by the virtuosic weaver, but by the dyer who achieved deep browns, gold and blue tones in cotton. Cotton is comprised of a cellulose structure that makes it more resistant to dyes, in contrast to camelid fiber (hair) which is protein, and more readily accepting of coloration. The resulting details articulate the defining characteristics of the Pacific bonito (Sarda chiliensis), a fish that thrives along the edge of the Humbolt current where it meets warmer coastal waters. Moraga writes:

The bonito’s striped, torpedo-shaped body, joined by a narrow bridge to a lunate tail, is accurately delineated here; but it is the multiple dorsal and anal finlets, and the long line of the mouth reaching back to the eye, that clinch the identification and confirm the weaver’s powers of observation.”

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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.