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Royal Inca Tunic: A Biography of an Ancient Andean Masterpiece

Dumbarton Oaks Fellowship House | Oak Room
May 2, 2024
06:00 PM to 07:00 PM
May 2, 2024 | Andrew Hamilton will share the results of his study of the All T’oqapu Inka Tunic and offer a new understanding of Dumbarton Oaks’ most famous Pre-Columbian object.

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This event will occur in-person and will not be live-streamed or recorded.

One of the most celebrated works of art stewarded by the Dumbarton Oaks museum is an enigmatic man’s shirt—often simply called “the Dumbarton Oaks tunic.” The 500-year-old garment is arguably the most famous work of Andean art in the world. Thought to be the only surviving royal vestment of the Inca Empire, it has spawned controversial theories that its intricately woven patterns are a long-lost glyphic writing system, which landed it in The New York Times and Time Magazine. For over a decade, Andrew James Hamilton has conducted careful physical studies of this rare, royal, and radiant object. In this talk, he will offer an entirely new understanding of the familiar object by piecing together its remarkable life history: from its arduous facture, to its entering the collection of Robert Woods Bliss, and its cultural significance in the present day. Previewing his new book being published by Princeton University Press in May 2024, Hamilton reveals for the first time that the extraordinary textile is an unfinished masterpiece that was likely being woven by two women on the eve of the Spanish invasion. An eyewitness to the horrors of colonialism and a testament to the highest echelon of Indigenous art of the Americas, the tunic has earned an important place in the canon of art history.

Andrew James Hamilton is associate curator of Arts of the Americas at the Art Institute of Chicago and a lecturer in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago. He is the author and illustrator of Scale & the Incas, published by Princeton University Press in 2018, and The Royal Inca Tunic: A Biography of an Andean Masterpiece, being published by Princeton University Press in May 2024. His research has been supported by Dumbarton Oaks, the Getty, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Fondation Fyssen, the Musée du Quai Branly, the Sainsbury Research Unit, and the Fulbright-Hays Program. He was previously a member of the Princeton Society of Fellows, a lecturer at Princeton University, and a postdoctoral fellow at the Collège du de France. He received his PhD and MA from Harvard University and his BA from Yale University.

© Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. Photography by Neil Greentree.