Synopses & Reviews
This work, a virtually unique opportunity for those wishing to learn about pre-Hispanic America and its art, is divided into two parts and includes an essay by the Nobel Prize Winner for Literature Octavio Paz. The first part of the book is historical and, essentially, examines the brutal shock suffered by two worlds between 1492, the year of the discovery of America, and 1532, when Pizarro subdued and conquered the Inca empire in Peru, eleven years after Hernando Cortes had destroyed the Aztecs in Mexico.
The connection between what took place in those dramatic years is illustrated with maps, old engravings and color photographs of various pre-Columbian archeological sites, as well as some of the background scenarios linked to the exploits of the European navigators. The second part looks at the major civilisations (Maya, Aztec, Inca, etc.), and some little-known although equally fascinating cultures, attributed with the production of the approximately one hundred and fifty works of art from Mesoamerica, Central America, and the Andean Cordillera and the Amazon Basin, shown in full page color illustrations. The authors-- historians and specialists-- provide in these pages a clear vision of what has often been drawn out in long-winded explanations. Most importantly, they pause on the aesthetic value of peoples that have, on many occasions, been called "primitive," without however omitting to place the sculptures, pottery and fabrics selected by the authors themselves in a precise anthropological context.
The result is an exemplary work of interest and delight that neither experts nor the inquisitive will be able to resist.
The volume offers a complete and striking picture of the New World before its discovery by Christopher
Columbus, and of the magnificent civilizations overrun and destroyed by the Spanish conquerors in the
early 16th century: covering the fabulous empire of the Incas in Peru to the Mayan civilization on the
high plateaux of Guatemala, the Olmec and Aztec cultures in Mexico to the populations of the Amazon
The volume is not only the complete catalogue of the pre-Columbian art collection of the
Barbier-Mueller Museum, but also a point of reference for pre-Columbian studies: the introductory text
by Octavio Paz is followed by Jean Paul Barbier's essays, which provide a minute reconstruction of
Christopher Colombus' expeditions, the discovery of the New World, the conquest of Mexico and Peru by
Cortés and Pizarro.
The second part of the book is devoted to the art of Central America, ancient Peru, Amazonia and Upper
Amazonia, studying the cultures of the various countries, and reconstructing their traditions,
religious rites, and political and social organization in the millenia preceding their discovery by
Colombus. The last part of the book features a wealth of photographic material and information on the
works in the museum, of the greatest archaeological and artistic relevance, dating from 1150-550 B.C.
to the 16th century A.D.