“M” for MANTA. Lena Bjerregaard, Conservator, Guest Researcher, Centre for Textile Research/SAXO Institute, University of Copenhagen

In the pre-Columbian times the woman’s outer garment was the mantle, or the manta. The mantle (Spanish: Manta, Quechua: Lliclla) of the pre-Columbian Inca ladies was a square textile, which was held together with a pin in the front. This garment was for many centuries the favourite over garment all over Peru. It was in classic times woven in alpaca wool on an upright loom, but was later also sewn together from two rectangular textiles woven on the back strap loom.

El primer crónica y buen gobierno, Philipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, 1615. Copenhagen, Kongelige Bibliotek, p. 300 (K.B. p. 302). Inca women are spinning; they all wear mantas over their wrap-around dress.
El primer crónica y buen gobierno, Philipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, 1615. Copenhagen, Kongelige Bibliotek, p. 300 (K.B. p. 302). Inca women are spinning; they all wear mantas over their wrap-around dress.
Wives of powerful lords from El primer nueva crónica y buen gobierno, Philipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, 1615. Copenhagen, Kongelige Bibliotek, p. 757 (KB p. 771). A noble woman from Cusco is wearing colonial dress, head-cloth and a traditional mantle.
Wives of powerful lords from El primer nueva crónica y buen gobierno, Philipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, 1615. Copenhagen, Kongelige Bibliotek, p. 757 (KB p. 771). A noble woman from Cusco is wearing colonial dress, head-cloth and a traditional mantle.

In Colonial times the mantle was still used over the new fashion dresses inspired from Europe, but most often made from cloth, woven in Peru. It was combined with another textile folded on the head. The head cloth could either be imported lace from Europe or a home woven textile that was folded and arranged on the head. In the upper classes of the society the head cloth was in Colonial times sometimes arranged on the head in a new way – not folded, but hanging loose from the head – like European veils. The folded head-cloth is still used by the women over most of Latin America. It differs from town to town, showing the geographical belonging of the woman to the viewer being aware of these differences.

Portrait of a Nusta, 18th century, Cusco, Museo Inka, Universidad Nacional San Antonio Abad del Cusco. The colonial noble woman from Cusco is wearing her traditional manta and head-cloth over a colonial dress and holding a spindle in her hand.
Portrait of a Nusta, 18th century, Cusco, Museo Inka, Universidad Nacional San Antonio Abad del Cusco. The colonial noble woman from Cusco is wearing her traditional manta and head-cloth over a colonial dress and holding a spindle in her hand.
Woman’s mantle made of woollen tapestry, called “Iliccla”, worn over the shoulders and attached in the front with a silver pin called “t’ipqui”, Cuzco, 18th century. Paris, musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Inv. 71.1957.14.1
Woman’s mantle made of woollen tapestry, called “Iliccla”, worn over the shoulders and attached in the front with a silver pin called “t’ipqui”, Cuzco, 18th century. Paris, musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Inv. 71.1957.14.1
Detail of woman’s mantle made of woollen tapestry, called “Iliccla”, worn over the shoulders and attached in the front with a silver pin called “t’ipqui”, Cuzco, 18th century. Paris, musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Inv. 71.1957.14.1
Detail of woman’s mantle made of woollen tapestry, called “Iliccla”, worn over the shoulders and attached in the front with a silver pin called “t’ipqui”, Cuzco, 18th century. Paris, musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Inv. 71.1957.14.1

The patterns on the manta changed in colonial times from traditional Inca patterns. Many of the pre-Columbian patterns prevailed, but were mixed with Christian iconography. The Inca patterns were mostly geometrical and square in form, but soon after the conquest curved lines were introduced. The patterns on the white background in Ill.3 symbol feathers. Feather textiles – with real feathers – had very high status in pre-Columbian times, but also woven, embroidered, brocaded, printed or painted imitations were highly estimated. With the curved lines produced with eccentric wefts being introduced from Europe they could also be woven in tapestry.


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