4027 - The altar as a zone of contact: Ecclesiastical Silverworks as a medium of transfer of meaning in Bolivia, 17th ¿ 18th centuries

Ecclesiastical Silverworks, especially frontals of altars, were a central part of the mass, due to their position in the church or their use. They show a multitude of Christian subjects, but also images of beings from Roman or Greek mythology. These beings in such prominent place lead to the question of whether during colonial times beings such as harpies were subjects of a transfer of meaning. The altar in the chapel of the Virgen de Guadalupe in Sucre, Bolivia illustrates such a transfer of meaning. The last step of the altar shows two silver plaques. On each plaque one can see an anthropomorphic figure with its arms raised, apparently holding a round object on its head. Their iconography corresponds to the one of Adam and Eve. But in the region of Jalq’a, near the city of Sucre, the textiles, are showing chaotic scenes which depict the absence of sunlight, the difficulty of seeing clearly, and the supernatural world. One of the main characters is the so-called “supay”. The depictions of the “supay” are probably derived from pre-Columbian petroglyphs, which can still be seen today in the region. The figure is portrayed in today’s textiles from the Jalq’a region in a way which is very similar to the two figures on the altar described above. After their expulsion from Paradise, Adam and Eve encountered a world that was no longer orderly or familiar; such was also the world in which indigenous peoples found themselves after the conquest of the Americas. But usually the altars show an inventory of European iconography. This leads to the idea of multiple interpretations of images with their transfer of meaning, but also to the visibility and invisibility of indigenous beliefs in ecclesiastical silverworks. My paper will discuss three questions: Do the images show pre-hispanic religious beliefs? Do they show the worldview of the Spaniards in the Americas, surrounded by the “others”? Or do they show only a European tradition of images without any connotation?

Palabras claves: cross-cultural communication, multiple interpretation of images, church as zone of contact

Autores: Nicklisch, Andrea (Universität Hamburg, Austria / Österreich)


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