Standing Dignitary

Precolumbianc. A.D. 600–1000

Kimbell Art Museum

Kimbell Art Museum
Fort Worth, United States

This rare Wari freestanding figurine is composed of intricate and densely patterned inlays of mother-of-pearl, purple and orange spondylus shell, mussel shell, turquoise, pyrite, greenstone, lapis lazuli, and silver (for the headdress) on a wood matrix. The torso is cloaked in a long ceremonial tunic decorated in an interlocking tapestry weave with three rows of a simplified and abstracted zoomorphic motif, which can be read as feline (jaguar or puma) heads or as standing llamas. The wearing of a court tapestry tunic identified one’s rank in the Wari empire, and the emphasis on the elaborateness of this costume suggests that the figure represented was a dignitary of some status. In life, tunics were worn as ceremonial garb, and in death they were placed over the wearer’s mummy bale. In shell and stone inlay, the complex textile patterns of the tunic are inevitably simplified.

The corpus of Wari inlaid material is very small. This is the only known example of a freestanding figurine entirely covered in the inlaid shell technique. The refined craftsmanship and wide range of materials used in its manufacture indicate the presence in Wari society of an elite that could afford and appreciate such a luxury item, which probably served to convey the social status of the owner. In this piece, the greenstone arms are drilled at each shoulder, possibly for suspension as a pendant.


  • Title: Standing Dignitary
  • Creator: Precolumbian
  • Date Created: c. A.D. 600–1000
  • Location: Peru, South Coast, Wari culture
  • Physical Dimensions: 4 x 2 1/2 x 1 in. (10.2 x 6.4 x 2.6 cm)
  • Provenance: (André Emmerich) and Alan Lapiner, by 1970; purchased by Alice M. Kaplan, 1970–1999; (sale, Sotheby's, New York, 2 June 1999, no. 17); purchased by Private Collection, United States, 1999–2002; purchased through (Sotheby’s, New York) by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 2002.
  • Rights: Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
  • External Link: www.kimbellart.org
  • Medium: Wood with shell-and-stone inlay and silver
  • Kamakura period (1185-1333): Middle Horizon, c. 7th–11th century A.D.

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