Museo Larco – The Archaeological Treasures of Ancient Peru
The Museo Larco is a privately owned museum of pre-Columbian art, located in the Pueblo Libre District of Lima, Peru. The works are housed in a magnificent 18th-century Spanish Viceroyalty* and in its galleries are showcased chronologically an overview of over 5,000 years of pre-Columbian Peruvian culture and history. The Museo Larco is internationally renown and is well known for its gallery of pre-Columbian erotic pottery.
*The Viceroyalty of Peru was one of the imperial Spanish provincial administrative districts, that was created in 1542. This Viceroyalty originally contained what is now modern-day Peru and much of the entirety of South America that the Spanish ruled from the capital of Lima.
Open every day of the year
Monday to Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Reduced opening hours:
December 24, 25 and 31, January 1, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
The admission ticket includes the permanent exhibition, visible storage, and erotic art collection.
Telephone: (+51-1) 461-1312
The history of the Museo Larco began in 1925 when Rafael Larco Herrera acquired a collection of Peruvian artifacts of approximately 600 ceramic pieces and other significant archaeological pieces from his brother-in-law, Alfredo Hoyle. After the acquisition of the collection, his son, Rafael Larco Hoyle, developed a passionate enthusiasm for collecting, cataloging and displaying these significant Peruvian cultural artifacts. It would not be long before his father, Rafael Larco Herrera would give his son the responsibility of the collection and eventually the first collection would become the cornerstone of the Rafael Larco Herrera Museum.
As a note, amateur photography is permitted throughout the museum, however, flash photography is not permitted in any of the exhibition rooms.
During the year that the collection came to Rafael Larco Herrera, his son Rafel Larco Hoyle was urged by his uncle, Victor Larco Herrera, a founder of the first museum in Lima, to form a new museum in Lima. He suggested that this new museum would not only house the existing collection but could also safeguard the massive quantity of archaeological relics that were constantly being illegally excavated and plundered by illicit artifact hunters in their careless and unsystematical grave robbing of significant archaeological sites.
Please remember that tripods and selfie sticks are not allowed to be used in the museum’s exhibition rooms and gardens.
Rafael Larco Hoyle agreed with his uncle and proceeded to create a museum that would carry on his father’s legacy. Not long afterward he purchased two large collections, the first was about 8,000 pieces from Roa and about 6,000 pieces from Carranza. Soon he further amassed the overall collection when he purchased several small collections in Chicama Valley, Trujillo, Virú, and Chimbote. By 1926 the Larco collection had grown significantly and numerous display cases were installed in a small house on the Chiclín estate. On July 28, 1926, Peru Independence Day, the museum opened to the public as Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera.
Take note that professional photography, professional video, and film recording are permitted provided that prior written approval is given. Requests should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, at least three working days before the planned session.
When planning your trip to visit the Museo Larco please remember to pack light. The climatic conditions of Lima mean that heavy coats and umbrellas are not necessary. There are coat and baggage check facilities on the premises. Suitcases, backpacks, bags or musical instruments are not allowed in the exhibit rooms and must be left in the baggage check facilities.
Did you know that the Museo Larco lends some of its collection to its daughter museum, the Museo de Arte Precolombino (Pre-Columbian Art Museum), which is located in Cusco, Peru?
The Museum has many permanent exhibitions that are housed in 11 galleries. In an adjacent room from the main 11 galleries is a unique visible storage gallery where visitors can walk among an endless array of artifacts. The gold and jewelry gallery is divided into three separate sections and features a massive collection of finely-wrought gold and silver jewelry that was used by many of the notable rulers of pre-Columbian Peru. The royal crowns and ornaments of gold and silver in this gallery are bejeweled with semi-precious stones.
In the Cultures of Ancient Peru Gallery, there are exhibits of 10,000 years of Peruvian pre-Columbian history. This great hall is divided into four sections that provide a chronology of cultures that existed in pre-Columbian Peru up through the 16th-century conquest by the Spanish. The hall is divided into four significant cultural areas: North Coast, Center, South, and the highlands. Each of these sections is in cultural sequence:
1. From the North Coast: Cupisnique, Vicus, Mochica, and Chimu;
2. From the Central Coast: Lima and Chancay;
3. From the South Coast: Paracas, Nazca, and Chincha;
4. From the Highlands: Chavín, Tiahuanaco, Huari, and Inca.
The other galleries include gallery 6 which is the Textiles from Ancient Peru and the adjacent Syncretism, the opposing beliefs and practices gallery. Then follows number 7, the Sacrifice Ceremony gallery and number 8, the Ceremonial Vessels gallery which leads to the Ritual Warfare and Music room. In gallery 9, visitors will find the Death in Ancient Peru gallery which there are several funerary artifacts on display. Galleries 10 and 11 are divided into three sections which house Gold and Jewelry artifacts and the crown jewel of the museum.
In addition to its permanent exhibits, the Larco Museum lends its collections to several international museums and cultural centers around the world.
In addition to exhibit galleries, the Museo Larco includes an introduction room in gallery 1, and a video room and library all within the confines of the complex.
The Museo Larco has a masterful gift shop within the gallery that offers a wide variety of high-quality ceramic, metal and textile replications made by skilled craftsmen from all over Peru. The museum has formalized the manufacturing techniques of these pre-Columbian replicated artifacts to ensure that each piece meets its high-quality standards.
As mentioned earlier, in 1926, at the age of 25, Rafael Larco Hoyle founded the Museo Larco. Along with his father, they were able to procure several significant Peruvian archaeological collections from many private collectors, accumulating some 45,000 pieces.
However, when faced with the general absence of data and specific archaeological information during the 1920s, Rafael Larco Hoyle devoted himself to the study of ancient Peru. His studies lead him to his own scientific research and he the exploration and excavation of numerous archaeological sites on the northern coast of Peru. Many consider Rafael Larco Hoyle as one of the pioneers of Peruvian archaeology.
In 2001, the Museo Larco, with the backing of Fundación Telefónica, became the first museum in Latin America to catalog its entire collection electronically. Since 2007 the entire collection has been available on-line and accessible by the general public.
The National Registry of Archaeological Property made the Museo Larco collection the first Peruvian collection to be included in the countries registry.
The link to this feature of the museum may be found here:
A celebration ceramic piece dedicated to the guinea pig.
The guinea pig plays a huge role in Peruvian culture. It was first domesticated around the year 2000 BC on the western side of the Andes, where Peru and Bolivia now lie. Guinea pigs were originally bred for food and eventually for pets, and even today they hold prominence in households.
Gold, silver, and copper were mined and worked into beautiful works of art and religious ceremonial pieces by the early inhabitants of Peru. With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, many of these cultural masterpieces were plundered, melted down and converted to Spanish coins.
It is said that between 1500 and 1650, Spain imported some 181 tons of gold and over 16,000 tons of silver from the New World. Much of it from the plundered cultural and religious artifacts of Peru. It made the Spanish wealthy but destroyed a culturally rich society. In today’s money, that much gold would be worth nearly $4 billion US dollars, and the silver would be worth over $7 billion US dollars.
The native people of Peru had a well-established culture that included a deep religion that was based on the environment and their surrounding world. They worshiped the elements and developed extraordinary farming technics that produced hundreds of varieties of corn, potatoes and quinoa. Yet when the Spanish invaders arrived, the Peruvian culture and its eons of religion, culture and sophisticated farming technics all but vanished.
The Peruvian civilizations developed some of the most advanced weapons, specialized armor and tactical planning of all of the ancient American civilizations. They created the superweapons of their respective cultures and specialized armaments that were stronger than any other Native American civilization. They were among the earliest Americans to use metal products in their weapon making and in the actual production of weapons. Their tactical prowess helped them in their way to conquer the west coast of South America. Eventually, however, these tools would prove to be primitive in comparison to the weapons of the conquering Spaniards whose longswords, guns and rifles would be no match.
The ancient Peruvians had seven main types of weapons. Their weapons were made of stone, bone or bronze and included the bow and arrow, spears, darts throwers, clubs, spear-throwing lever or atlatl, two-handed serrated-edge wooden swords, wooden slings and stones, and stone or copper headed battleaxes, such as the one shown above. The ancient Peruvian people developed a high skill level that allowed them to optimize these weapons with precise accuracy and in close-quarter combat.
Above, a stone Inca “star” mace, probably made of some type of granite. When mounted to a long, hardwood handle, it made a formidable club-style weapon with its six-pointed star head.
Some of the finest pottery that was produced before the time of the Inca people can be found in the wares produced from 100 – 700 AD by the Moche civilization of the northern coast of Peru. The Moche people learned early on to use molds to quickly and efficiently produce large quantities of high-quality ceramics that employed unique shapes and detailed designs. The colors they utilized consisted mainly of red, white and black and combinations of these basic colors.
They used figures that had realistic humanlike characteristics, and animal faces and bodies to decorate their ceramics. The Moche have been found to be the only pre-Inca culture to incorporate realistic facial features, expressions and even emotions in their ceramics, traits that have not been found in Inca pottery.
Above, a Huari funerary bundle from 800 – 1300 AD. This is an extraordinary example of early Peruvian culture that exhibits exquisitely decorated textiles and finely detailed metalworking. This particular funerary bundle contains the body of a child, wrapped in cloth, similar to how the Egyptians prepared their dead for the journey to the afterworld.
In 2018, TripAdvisor’s Traveller’s Choice Awards recognized Lima’s Museo Larco as the best museum in South America and one of the twenty best in the world.
Hole in the head skulls in the Museo Larco
For thousands of years, the practice of trepanation was engaged around the known world. Trepanation or the act of cutting, scraping or drilling into the skull was used to treat any number of head-related ailments including injuries, headaches, dizzy spells, and other physical and mental illnesses. This practice may also have been employed to ward off evil spirits and even in sacrifices.
There have been more skulls found in Peru that have had ancient forms of craniotomy than the combined number found in the rest of the world.
Three copper tumis from ancient Peru.
Tumis employ a standard round top and flared handle shape. They are typically cast in copper and many have patina encrusted surfaces, some show impression marks from fabric. These objects were engaged in a wide variety of uses including knives for meal preparation and meal eating, sacrificial ritual knives, barber tools, farming implements, surgical tools, and hunting weapons. They were also employed as decorative pendants and were used as a type of monetary coin.
Moche Style Funerary Mask from 1 AD – 800 AD.
Funerary masks were a very important part of the burial ritual of the leaders of ancient Peruvian civilizations. It was said that these masks allowed the deceased to be transformed into the figure that it represented.
Peru and Yale University have been embroiled in a long-standing dispute since pottery shards and other artifacts that Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham III plundered during his trips to Machu Picchu between 1911 and 1916. Tensions grew over the ownership of the precious cultural artifacts and culminated in December 2008 when Peru sued Yale over possession of the relics. The Peruvian government even threatened to sue Yale President Richard Levin personally. Many contend that Bingham had actually bought the artifacts and did little archaeological digging himself. The provenance of the actual site where the artifacts were found has also been called into question. Such was the time during the Age of Plunder.
Nonetheless, Yale, after shouldering much resentment from the world community relented and has returned some artifacts back to the Peruvian government. Many of these artifacts are currently on display at the Casa Concha Museum in Cusco, Peru.
As history unfolds we are hearing that many so-called archaeologists and museum curators obtained their precious artifacts under questionable circumstances. It has been told that many of the artifacts in the Yale Machu Picchu collection were not actually dug up by Yale sponsored archaeologists. Some reliable sources contend that Bingham had bought these items from Cusco collectors, just as the Rafael Larco Herrera family had, and from huaquero looters and had them smuggled out of Peru.
The iconic archaeologist of Peru, Luis Valcarcel, protested nearly 100 years ago that Bigham was absconding priceless Peruvian artifacts in the dead of the night. Valcarcel and the Cusco Historical Institute took Bingham to court, claiming he was a looter and a grave robber. Before the onset of the trial, Bingham had fled Peru, never to return.
Shipments of Inca pottery bought by Bingham which are at the center of the Yale/Bingham collection consist of over 350 rare, priceless articles that Bingham had purchased from Tomas. A. Alvistur, who was the son-in-law of Carmen Vargas, the owner of the Huadquiña hacienda, which is located just below Machu Picchu.
But enough of Hiram Bingham the third and Yale and their controversy with Peru and the world.
There is one thing that the visitor to the Museo Larco will notice very quickly — the overall diversity and sheer magnitude of the collection. The other is the absolute beauty and historical significance of the objects inside this well laid out museum. It is spacious, and one gets a comfortable, relaxed feeling as the visitor strolls leisurely through the complex.
The visitor to this museum will immediately get a sensation of just how complicated many of these works really are. As you read the description that accompanies each piece, you question yourself if you had actually read the age of the artifact correctly. Is it really that old? How can something that old be designed so intricately and fabricated so precisely with the limited, near stone-aged tools?
Above, is a Moche quartz crystal beaded necklace with a massive teardrop also made of quartz. It was made in 100 – 700 AD by the Moche civilization with flourished in the northern part of Peru. Their capital was near the present-day Moche, Trujillo, Peru. This necklace is one-of-a-kind and in the “priceless” category.
The intricately worked headdress above shows the sophisticated workmanship capabilities that the Moche civilization had. This headdress represents Inti the ancient Incan sun god and is revered as the national patron of the Inca state. Considered by some as Inti, the sun god, he is perhaps more appropriately identified according to the various stages of the sun.
Above, yet another fine example of a Moche headdress with its finely detailed metalworking.
Chimu gold funerary attire (1300 – 1532 AD)
This elaborately worked gold costume, the centerpiece of the Museo Larco gold collection, attired a great ruler of the Chimu civilization. He was buried in the mud-brick city of Chan Chan, the capital of the Chimu kingdom. The design of the crown, breastplate and the ornamental neck and shoulder piece invoke the relationship that he had with the natural world filled with birds and the life-giving sun and the celestial world that the ancient Peruvians worshiped. This costume is the only known complete set in the world of gold Chimu clothing.
One thing that certainly many humans think about is our evolution to the stone age and then onto the world of high technology. Above and below, examples of primitive stone tools in the Museo Larco, unremarkable from similar tools found all over the world including North America and Europe. Not glamorous but clearly a major human stepping stone that helped us evolve into the world that brought us detailed fine ceramics, gold, silver and copper metalworking and the eventual age of technology.
One of the grand features of this remarkable museum is that visitors can walk among the storage shelves that contain some 30,000 cataloged ancient pottery artifacts and stone tools. The Visible Storage gallery is located just off the exhibition rooms, and can at times be somewhat overwhelming with its vast array of objects. The Museo Larco was one of the first in the world to open its storerooms to the general public.
The Gallery of pre-Columbian Erotic Pottery
After leaving the main gallery complex, the visitor has the opportunity to stroll the lush gardens where he soon finds himself at the Erotic Gallery. As a caution, this gallery might not be in everyone’s taste, especially young children, so use caution if you plan to visit this section of the Museo Larco.
In their ceramic objects, the ancient Peruvian civilizations displayed their daily lives, including their exploration into the world of eroticism. The Museo Larco’s Erotic Gallery contains the largest collection of erotic ceramics in the world.
In this gallery, there is a selection of archaeological artifacts that were found by Rafael Larco Hoyle in the 1960s. And as a result of his research into the sexual representations in Peruvian pre-Columbian artifacts, Hoyle published his findings in his book, “Checan” (1966).
As a museum guide explained: The eroticism presented in this major pottery collection evokes desire, attraction and the coming together of the opposing yet complementary forces that enable life to endlessly regenerate.
I will leave the reader to conclude their own interpretation of these objects.
What started out as a method to learn more about a country that we had fallen in love with, ended as a crash-course in the antiquity and culture of a society that had developed to great heights and then was brought to the brink of extinction by the cruelty of their Spanish conquerors. The Peruvians had offered little resistance to their invaders, not because they had powerful guns and swords, but because they had beards! The Inca especially believed that their gods would come to Earth one day and that they would be sporting beards. Since it is rare for an Inca man to grow a beard, they offered little resistance when the Spanish armadas arrived on their shores.
As we left the Museo Larco we were glad to have seen this magnificent assemblage of historical Peruvian artifacts. And as this would be our final day in Peru, we came away with a great love for this country and the ancient civilizations that had brought glory to it.
A bucket list should be made with several layers, and not just one layer or one item. In other words, don’t just list Peru, list Peru and Lima and Peru food and Peru history and Peru culture. This method will add many drops in the bucket.
All photographs are the copyright of Jim Jackson Photography. Please contact me for authorization to use or for signed, high-resolution copies.