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textiles from the Paracas necropolis were created with dyes from Relbunium, or plant red, but scientific testing has detected cochineal in a few examples — the earliest known instances of the use of the dye in Peru.12 The iconographic language of the Paracas embroideries recurs in the textiles and ceramics of the Nasca culture based in the valley of the Rio Grande de Nazca, some sixty miles south of Paracas, from about the first century a.d. until the eighth. The Nasca erected large pyramidal structures at Cahuachi, a ceremonial site and pilgrimage center, and they are known for the Nasca lines, huge geoglyphs (created by removing red rocks to reveal the paler ground beneath) forming geometric and animal shapes that traverse the desert floor. The Nasca built elaborate underground irrigation systems, now called puquios, that made agriculture possible. Cactus’s ability to bear water-filled fruit had significance to a culture dependent on hard-won subsistence in the dry desert climate. (The illustrations on Nasca pottery also confirm that certain types of cacti were valued for their hallucinogenic and psychotropic properties.) Climate changes in the region in this period may have favored the growth of cactus, and the Nasca population also moved upriver to a habitat more favorable to the plants.13 At what stage in history the primary focus shifted from the fruit of the cactus to the wild parasitic cochineal insect that des­troys its host is not clear. But it was in the florescence of the Nasca culture that mastery of the production of red color from cochineal began on the south coast of Peru.

As soon as cochineal red appeared in the Americas, it eclipsed all other sources for the production of red-colored textiles. Easy to use and containing an abundance of colorant, cochineal quickly spread throughout the region. Some of the early examples of cochineal-dyed ritual cloths have been found in the central highlands in the Ancash region of northern Peru. Among them is a fragment of a camelid-hair textile in the Metropolitan’s collection (fig. 31) that was produced by the Recuay people, who were contemporaries of the Nasca. Cochineal red found its way to the north coast of Peru early in the history of the sophisticated Moche civilization that held sway in the valleys along Peru’s northern coast from about the first to the ninth century. A tapestry-woven coca bag with a large winged and masked figure on either side that dates to the fifth or sixth century (fig. 32) may be the earliest example of a cochineal-dyed textile from the region. A tunic from the seventh to ninth century with a bold repeat design of cochineal red animal heads, probably camelids (fig. 33), represents artisanry that may have originated in the foothills of the Andes, where coastal cultures interchanged goods and ideas with the people of the mountain regions, in this case the Wari. The Wari, who were centered in the south central highlands, expanded their sphere of influence beginning in the fifth century and continued to impact on Andean cultures to the north and south into the tenth century. Artisans working under the auspices of the Wari

35. Tunic. Peru, Chimú, 12th – 15th century. Tapestryweave cotton and cochinealdyed camelid hair, 23⅝ x 30¼ in. (72.7 x 76.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial ­Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.588)

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Cochineal Red: The Art History of a Color  

Elena Phipps The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Winter 2010 Volume LXVII, Number 3 Copyright © 2010 by The Metropolitan Museum of Art,...

Cochineal Red: The Art History of a Color  

Elena Phipps The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Winter 2010 Volume LXVII, Number 3 Copyright © 2010 by The Metropolitan Museum of Art,...

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