This art form dates back to artisan traditions during the Vice-regency and involves the creation of objects linked to religious and even magical ceremonies. The regions of Ayacucho, Cusco and Huancavelica produce the greatest variety of figures. These traditional images include the retablo de San Marcos or cajon, crosses, saints, Nativity scenes, the Holy Family and the many different portrayals of the infant Christ. These figures are made from a variety of materials, including dough made from potatoes, medlar seeds, plaster, glued cloth and maguey, the local fruit. The most common images produced by this art-form include religious images with long, stylized necks created by artisan Hilario Mendivil and his wife Georgina in the artists' quarter of San Blas in Cusco.
Many Andean dances use masks as part of the dancer's costume. The most common motifs include demons, angels, blacks (negritos), Spaniards (españoles) and all kinds of animals.
The most important exhibition of masks is held in the southern Andes, such as during the festival of the Virgen de la Candelaria. Junin is another major producer of masks, while a rich variety linked to myths and customs of jungle villages is manufactured in the Amazon area, like for example in the Bora community in Loreto.
Masks are made from a range of materials that are as varied as their place of origin:plaster, leather, wood, wire sheeting and tin. The most typical masks include those of the Piro culture, the parlampan (picaresque characters of the area of Huaral), the auquis of Ancash, the jija huanca (styled from gargoyle heads), the huacones of the central highlands and the famous demons of the seven deadly sins of Puno.
Tiny human figures, animal froms the area, images of Christian saints and pre-Colombian deities, stars, mountains and lakes are some of the themes that appear in the colorful world of the Cajones Sanmarcos or Retablos from Ayacucho.
Ayacucho craftsmen found these portable altars to be the perfect element to craft their own religious tradition as well as the religion imposed upon them, without sparking fears among colonial religious authorities of idol-worshipping. The figures in these retablos, or boxed scenes, appeared on two levels. The upper level symbolized the heavens, with saints and sacred Andean animals, while the lower portrayed life on Earth.
The retablos initially were limited to the world of shepherds and peasant farmers in Ayacucho. In fact, the Ayacucho artisans have done most to promote this important tradition of Peruvian imagery. Some of the best-known craftsmen include the late Joaquin Lopez Antay, Florentino Jimenez and Jesus Urbano. These three names have given rise to three schools or tendencies of retablo: magical-religious, traditional, and historical and realistic. Today, styles and themes have multiplied, while Cuzco has emerged as a major manufacturing and trading center.
:: HUAMANGA STONE CARVINGS
Peru is home to several different types of stone used for carving: granite, basalt, andesite, lake pebbles (found in Puno) and white alabaster known as piedra de Huamanga, which comes from Ayacucho.
Huamanga stone carvings were born in colonial times as a result of a shortage of marble and porcelain. Early motifs included figures of the infant Christ and other religious imagery such as saints, crosses, virgins and relics. Later, artisans, who found the stone ideal for carving, developed new religious motifs as well as images linked to the local Creole culture (for example, the image of the vicuña stamping on the Castille lion). Today, Huamanga stone carvings are used to portray Nativity scenes within oval - shaped, recesses and replicas of the War of Independence monument at Pampa de la Quinua outside Ayacucho. Other, rougher figures are also carved, mainly as souvenirs for visitors.
:: WOODEN CARVINGS
Wooden carving as an art form heavily influenced by religious polychrome sculptures took off in colonial times. Artists made retablos, statuettes and decorated furniture in churches and convents whose complex Baroque style reached its peak in the famous San Blas pulpit in San Blas church in Cusco.
One of the current wooden carving centers is to be found in the town of Molinos, near Huancayo. There, artisans make a range of objects from utensils and decorative pieces to toys, featuring acrobats with movable arms, as well as a series of animals including roosters, ducks, horses, donkeys, lions and a veritable bestiary of mythical beats. Other finely carved pieces include the bastones de Sarhua, where the painted boards (tablas) are made.