The tree of Life (El árbol de la Vida)

  • Artist: Cultura Chancay
  • Date: Late Intermediate Period (900-1476 AD.)
  • Acquisition: Asociación Amigos del Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes - AAMNBA. 1990
  • Genre: religious
  • Support: On plants elements
  • Dimensions: 97 x 86 x 86 cm.


The tree of Life (El árbol de la Vida) Enlarge
Reference 9274
Work not on display

Summary The tree of Life (El árbol de la Vida)

The sacred tree is part of Chancay culture and can be situated within a traditional search for expression in three-dimensional textile pieces and the history of pre-Columbian weaving. Nothing comes closer to imitating nature than three-dimensional solutions, in those cases where naturalism was the path artists chose to follow. One possibility was clearly to abandon the loom, forget about weft and warp and conquer space by way of volume. In this process, a textile tree is an autonomous entity, deposited like a finished object to the ends of fulfilling a specific task. It is a complex cultural phenomenon in which myth, art and technique are profoundly inter-related. Textile sculpture flees from the loom and gains space in order to say something (1). The tree, with its dawning, flowers and twilight, appeared before men like a metaphor for life. The tree was also the path upwards, one that could take them to the heavens that had become distant. A beatific heaven, where a golden age still reigned in which men spoke the language that was common to all of nature’s other beings and everything was perfect. The consecrated tree is widely documented throughout the Americas by historians, ethnographers and archaeologists. Sacred trees, plants or branches are inscribed in the earliest narratives generated by men to explain life and the universe. In the Andean world its image has not yet been extinguished and it reaches us from over two millennia ago. The Chancay textile tree-plant is related to two levels of symbolic language: that of the sacred cotton plant and the unifier of the planes of the world that appears in the Indian’s chronicle tale. These two elements conjugate in the “Árboles de la Vida” (Trees of Life): they are deified plants in textile iconography. They break away from the reality of the plant cycle, given that the weaver has situated two types of fruit in this tree: cotton cocoons and balls. Both real and imaginary fruits are present. This way, we have a ball of cotton in the tree as a fruit: a symbolic homage to human labor, reference to the spinner’s virtues and the fiber’s potential as a primary structure, used as protection and as a means of expression. It is feasible to think about where this archaeological textile structure coincides with some contemporary artists’ search along neo-expressionist lines, as Michel Thomas has pointed out: “If one had to simplify the chain of cultural events over the course of a century to the furthest extreme possible, it could be said that contemporary textile art is born out of a strange encounter between the Bauhaus and non-Western textile tradition” (2). This coincidence is not only a meeting of forms and space, but also the poetic undercurrents from which these forms emerge as language.Ruth Corcuera


1— See: Rogger Ravines, “Textilería” in: Rogger Ravines (comp.), Tecnología andina. Lima, Instituto de Estudios Peruanos-Instituto de Investigación Tecnológica Industrial y Normas Técnicas, 1978, p. 255-268.
2— Michel Thomas; Christine Mainguy and Sophie Pommier, L’Art textile. Geneva, Skira, 1985, p. 181.


1987. CORCUERA, Ruth, Herencia textil andina. Buenos Aires, Ducilo, 1987, p. 8, il. 44-46.