The Larco Museum of Lima

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William Haseltine




The Larco Museum of Lima is an extraordinary collection of Pre-Colombian work in pottery, textiles, silver and gold. It is the personal collection of Rafael Larco Hoyle (1901-1966). The collection is housed in three separate buildings. The largest part of the collection is beautifully installed in the central residence of what was a great hacienda. Two adjacent builds house the storage room of thousands of additional works and the collection of erotic or fertility pottery.

The entry is through a garden surrounded by multicolored bougainvillea. A display of rare cacti indigenous to Peru fills the courtyard. The pottery is exceptional. Much dates to the pre-Inca period before 800AD. Of special interest are the portrait busts. The features are delicately and finely molded. The features are strikingly similar to those of the present day alto plano Indians. The great vessels for preparation of corn beer are delicately painted.

There is a small, but outstanding collection of fabrics, some almost 1500 years old. Several are made entirely of feathers. We were told that the birds were not killed but trapped, lightly plucked and released.

A large portion of the exhibit describes the rituals of human sacrifice. The paintings on pottery vessels are reproduced and simplified. Each step of the ritual is interpreted, frame by frame. Nearby, the instruments, clothing, jewelry and weapons are displayed. According to the curators, the tombs and associated artifacts of several of the people identified in the pottery drawing were found in a collective tomb and are on display here.

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William Haseltine


The jewelry, also found in tombs, is of gold, silver and gilded silver. Some ear pieces and necklaces are made of beautifully inlaid stones.

The most spectacular pieces here are the funerary ornaments of the nobles. These are either of silver or silver gilt. They are truly resplendent. The pectorals, or collars, are enormous, as are the necklaces of gold beads. The head ornaments often tower two or three times the height of the head itself. Earpieces are the size of coffee mugs.

The erotic or fertility pottery remains unexplained. The pottery is explicit and often exaggerated, both for men and for women. Similar pieces, perhaps even some of the same one) were shown in the Museum of Women's Art in Washington DC about four years ago as part of an exhibit of the role of women in pre-Colombian art.

 This visit was followed by a visit to the Poli Museum. The collection is housed in Mr. Poli's home in which he and his son still live. We were shown the collection by Enrico Poli. The work includes both pre-Colombian as well as colonial art. It is an idiosyncratic collection.

William Haseltine is a former professor at Harvard Medical School, where he researched cancer and HIV/AIDS. He is the founder of Human Genome Sciences, where he served as chairman and CEO, and the president of the William A Haseltine Foundation for Medical Sciences and the Arts. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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