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Collaborative Research Project with Getty Research Insitute, J. Paul Getty Museum and Getty Conservation Institute Examines Both Manuscripts Together for the First Time

April 3, 2008

LOS ANGELES—Two illuminated manuscripts of extraordinary importance, along with books, prints, maps, watercolors, and photographs that illustrate the history and culture of Peru will be on display in The Marvel and Measure of Peru: Three Centuries of Artists’ Histories, 1550–1880, at the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Center, July 8–October 19, 2008.

The richly illustrated manuscripts, written around 1600 by Martin de Murúa, a Spanish Mercedarian friar who arrived in Peru in the late 1500s, form the center of this exhibition, which is the culmination of a collaborative project involving the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Research Institute (GRI).  Lenders to the exhibition include Seán Galvin, a private collector in Ireland, a second private collector in New York, the Huntington Library, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the University of California, Santa Barbara.

When Francisco Pizarro and his fellow Spanish conquistadors first encountered Peru in 1524, they were shocked by the completely unfamiliar world.  The people, flora, fauna, topography and cities begged for description, but observers found the written word inadequate.  Early chroniclers—and Murúa was among the first—added richly detailed drawings to their written descriptions, expressing European perspectives on the culture and traditions of the Inca Empire.

One of the Murúa manuscripts in the exhibition, entitled Historia general del Piru (1616; General history of Peru) now known as the Getty Murúa, has been in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum since 1983.  The other manuscript, owned by Seán Galvin, has come to be known as the Galvin Murúa.  The manuscripts are closely linked—Murúa copied and actually cut out pages of material from the Galvin manuscript, his earlier version (entitled Historia del origen, y genealogía real de los reyes ingas del Piru 1590; History of the origin and genealogy of the Incas of Peru), and pasted it in the later Getty Murúa.  Both changed hands many times, always in obscurity, after Murúa returned to Spain in 1616, until they emerged in the late 20th century.

“This exhibition and the surrounding research project will provide an unparalleled opportunity to study these two magnificent manuscripts side by side for the first and probably only time,” says Barbara Anderson, head of exhibitions and consulting curator at the GRI.  “As the first fully illustrated accounts in color of the history and customs of the Incas before and during Spanish rule, these complementary manuscripts are unsurpassed historical and art historical contributions by an eyewitness to a cataclysmic moment in world history.  Because of its historical importance, the Getty Murúa is among the most frequently consulted manuscripts by scholars in the Getty collection.”

In the two years leading up to the exhibition, experts both within and outside the Getty closely examined both manuscripts, studying their structure, the pigments used in the illustrations, the scribal and artistic hands, the depiction of textiles, and the editing and censorship of the texts, among many other characteristics.  The Getty has published a facsimile of the Getty Murúa and an accompanying volume of essays by an international group of scholars.

On display, in addition to the Getty and Galvin Murúas, will be many impressive works from the GRI’s special collections and other Southern California institutions, as well as a private lender.  Highlights include textiles, an ancient Inca recording device called a quipu, and an album of 101 watercolors and hand-painted prints by self-taught Peruvian artist Francisco (“Pancho”) Fierro, depicting customs and costumes of Lima from around 1860.  Maps, costume, botanical, and travel account books, and a small group of early photographs of Peru demonstrate how European travelers tried to comprehend and categorize the Peruvian world even as late as the middle of the 19th century.

The Marvel and Measure of Peru is curated by Barbara Anderson, head of exhibitions and consulting curator for Spanish and Latin American materials at the Getty Research Institute, and Emily Engel, Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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Desiree Alcalde-Wayne
Getty Communications

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