Peruvian, Moche;Detail from Rattle-based cup in form of owl
Burnished gray ceramic, ca. 550-700 CE
Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James F. Mathias (Barbara V. Lord, Class of 1934)

Transported and Translated: Arts of the Ancient Americas

Jan 24, 2011 by Jane Gronau

From the diary of Albrecht Dürer...

 27 August 1520

"At Brussels is a very spledid Townhall, large and covered with beautiful carved stonework, and it has a noble, open tower....I Saw the things which have been brough to the King from the new land of gold, a sun all of gold...and a moon all of silver of the same size, also two rooms full of armor of the people there, and all manner of wondrous weapos of theirs, harness and darts, very strange clothing, beds, and all kinds of wonderful objects of human use, much better work theeing than prodigies  [myths, fairy tales].... All the days of my life I have seen nothing that rejoiced my heart so much as these things, for I saw amongst them wonder works of art, and I marvelled at the subtle Ingenia of men in foreign lands. Indeed I cannot express all that I thought there."

Dürer had traveled to Brussels to secure the patronage of the Charles V and to paint the King's portrait. But while there, he had occasion to view the objects sent back from the conquest of "the new golden land" – Mexico.

The dominant discourse at the time portrayed the New World as an object of commercial exploitation, and its inhabitants as savages. Lacking any context to understand the cultures found there, Dürer nonetheless wrote that the works that he saw were, "more beautiful to me than miracles."

Transported and Translated: Arts of the Ancient Americas, on view at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum 8 February-12 June 2011, introduces the visitor to the visually rich cultures that occupied Mesoamerica and the Andean region of South America from roughly 300 BCE to the time of the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century.