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

Wool plain weave with stem-stitch embroidery. Denman Waldo Ross Collection (21.2557). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Resembling  a heavy-set domestic cat, the pampas cat (felis colocolo) portrayed on this mantle border fragment (0–A.D. 100) feeds primarily on small mammals, insects, snakes and birds that populate the Peruvian coast. Its fur is long and coarse; the hairs along its back form a characteristic dorsal crest. Notice the diamond-shaped ridge and pointed layers of contrasting embroidery yarns that may have been stitched to emphasize the particular markings of this feline. Depicted with a pointy-eared head and long, curling whiskers at either end, this mythical figure carries bodiless human heads. The iconography is repeated in diminutive form along the edge of the fringe.

Though not illustrated on the textile shown here, pampas cat iconography is closely linked with images of cultivated plants – most notably, the lima bean.

As an animal strongly associated in textile imagery with plants and hence the earth, the pampas cat may have been a visual metaphor for the life-giving properties of the earth, functioning as an ideogram of an earth cult when embroidered on garments.
~ Anne Paul, “Paracas Ritual Attire”

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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.