The Emperor's New Clothes: The Biography of a Royal Inca Tunic


Getty/ACLS Postdoctoral Fellowships in the History of Art


Art and Archaeology


The royal Inca tunic conserved by Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC, is arguably the most famous work of ancient Andean art in the world, yet little is actually known about it. Since the 1970s, debates over whether its patterns, called tocapus, are a form of long-lost glyphic writing have dominated scholarship on the textile. “The Emperor’s New Clothes” explores the object’s materiality, making, wear, and repair to reconstruct its objecthood, life, and place in history. The study reveals that the royal garment is unfinished and likely was being woven on the eve of the Spanish conquest for the last Inca emperor, Atahualpa, who was executed in 1533. This makes the tunic the only ancient Andean artifact that can potentially be ascribed to a historically known individual, let alone to an indigenous sovereign.