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CHISELLED GOURD FROM COCHAS GRANDE “VIRGIN FOREST”
History behind the piece
The chiselled gourd is one of the earliest known works of art attributed to the ancient man of Peru. In fact, the plant and its fruit were well spread in pre-Hispanic America as evidenced by archaeological findings in burials such as that of Huaca Prieta (3000 - 1700 B.C.), on the northern Peruvian coast in the department of La Libertad. There are the oldest evidences of the use of gourds and these show a skillful decorative work, incised and pyrography.
The function of the gourds in Ancient Peru was very diverse. Decorated or undecorated, they served mainly in everyday life as containers for food and drinks, although they were also used as offerings in religious ceremonies or as part of the funerary equipment that accompanied the deceased in the afterlife. The stories show that the pumpkin was also used as a musical instrument (warrior horns and rattles); as floats for navigation or raft species; as limes and, finally, as a product of exchange or barter.
The gourd, the fruit of the Lagenaria Vulgaris, grows in a dry and warm climate, which contributes to the formation of its hard, wood-like skin. Such conditions are found on the coast, in some Andean valleys and in the lower areas of the eastern slopes of the mountain region.
Advancing in history, already in colonial times the gourd was especially associated with its use as a container for drinking ka'ay. The Jesuit order brought and spread this custom after having known it to the indigenous people of Paraguay. The term mate, then, came to name not only the container made from the dried and emptied fruit of ancient indigenous tradition, but also the new drink. This term was generalized to the point that the Guaraní denomination of origin was left aside, and it began to be called mate, yerba mate or "Jesuit tea." In the seventeenth century, the Jesuits marketed yerba mate throughout their homes in America and spread its consumption in all social strata of the great cities of the New World. However, the fondness for the drink decreased in the Peruvian territory during the second half of the 18th century after the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767. In addition, drinking coffee was consolidated as an alternative and, finally with the advent of tea in the 19th century, the habit of taking the infusion and therefore the generalized presence of the container disappeared completely.
Although various instruments for carving were already used in these territories, the burin, a European tool brought by silversmiths to the Peruvian Viceroyalty, provided indigenous artists with greater plastic possibilities in their decoration. The transfer of the technique of goldsmithing to the work of the fruit is clearly observed in the aesthetics of the first containers for drinks and sugar bowls that were produced during that period. Later, the political, social and economic changes of the 19th century incorporated a new iconography that highlighted local customs and gave rise to a tradition.
Thus, the daily scenes linked to the agricultural and ritual calendar of the farmer began to become popular. Throughout the Mantaro Valley, the artists knew how to capture in the gourd of ancient utilitarian tradition, the evocation of their daily life, their traditions and celebrations, that is, the memory of the Andean people.
To this day, the chiselled of gourds continues to be one of the most refined traditions in the world and specimens of the most varied types and sizes continue to lay the foundations of the nationality from a look at the Peruvian farm life and the roots of the indigenous past. This particular piece comes from the town of Cochas Grande, located in the Tambo district in the Huancayo province. This takes advantage of its surfaces to richly adorn the body of the gourd with jungle scenes and real animals. Its natural color is a delicate pale yellow, a shade that time has turned into a light tan brown. Scenes in this style are completed, almost as a rule, with a background made up of different plants such as vines and palm trees, which in its entirety makes this piece an example of traditional rural art1.
The principle applied to this work is simple. Once the fruit is dry, cleaned and polished, the design to be decorated is traced on its exterior with a sharp instrument. Then, with a burin, these same lines are reinforced in depth and thickness. To further differentiate the figures on the background, it is either lined with thin, parallel lines, as in the shading of a copper engraving, or completely roughened, creating a background with a texture different from the glossy finish of the fruit's skin. Finally, a mixture of fat with soot is smeared on the gourd so that the incised parts acquire an intense black color, a finish that characterizes the style from the Bajo Mantaro.
There is no doubt that the potential of chiselled gourd and its creators provide enough arguments to recognize in this popular art, based on the idea of miscegenation, the paradigm of true Peruvian art.
Origin: Cochas Grande, Huancayo
Measurements: 17 cm x 24 cm x 24 cmCondition: Excellent
1 Rural Traditional Art is considered to be those plastic manifestations created by rural residents whose productions cannot be identified as part of the autochthonous language of an ethnic group. A traditional artist from the rural area who migrates to the city will continue to make traditional rural art while maintaining their techniques, forms and functions, since these come from the rural area.