An upcoming Getty Research Institute (GRI) exhibition, The Marvel and Measure of Peru, Three Centuries of Visual Histories, 1550–1880, explores the ways Peru and its peoples were depicted by artists after the conquest. In conjunction with the exhibition, staff from the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), the Getty Museum, and the GRI, along with colleagues from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and GRI scholars in residence, have conducted an investigation of two illustrated and hand-colored manuscripts by Martín de Murúa, a Spanish Mercedarian friar who lived in Peru at the end of the sixteenth century.

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The manuscripts, Historia del origen y genealogía real de los reyes Incas del Piru (1590, private collection of Seán Galvin) and Historia general del Piru (1616, J. Paul Getty Museum), contain elaborate color illustrations depicting Inca royalty, history, and traditions. Both show evidence of extensive editing, including the insertion of folios and illustrations from other manuscripts. While some of the illustrations have been attributed to Guaman Poma de Ayala, a native Peruvian best known for his illustrated manuscript El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno (1615, Royal Library, Copenhagen), it is also apparent that a number of additional artistic hands were involved. In order to elucidate the number and identity of the artists responsible for the illustrations, the process by which they were made, and the sequence of their insertion into the manuscripts, an extensive collaborative study of the two Murúa manuscripts was conducted.

The team undertaking the study included senior scientist Karen Trentelman, GCI; manuscripts conservator Nancy Turner, Getty Museum; head of exhibitions and curator Barbara Anderson, GRI; textile conservator Elena Phipps, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and GRI scholars in residence Tom Cummins of Harvard University and Juan Ossio of the Pontificia Universidad Católica, Lima.

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An investigation into the pigments and colorants used in the illustrations was initiated by Phipps in 1999, when she was a Getty Museum Scholar, with assistance from Nancy Turner and then–GCI scientists David Scott and Narayan Khandekar. In 2005, in conjunction with the forthcoming exhibition, the project entered a second phase, which included an ambitious program of comprehensive analysis conducted by Trentelman and Turner in the GCI Museum Research Laboratory. Because of the delicate nature of the illustrations, only noninvasive analytical methodologies—X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and Raman microspectroscopy—were employed. Several distinct pigment palettes, each composed of traditional painting materials, were identified in the illustrations in the Getty Murúa manuscript, leading the team to conclude that the illustrations were created by a workshop, with various artists responsible for creating the individual components of the illustrations—from the initial outline of the forms to the final addition of metallic silver embellishments.

Recent studies into the illustrations in the Galvin Murúa, the majority of which are executed in Guaman Poma de Ayala's characteristic style, have refined the team's understanding of his palette and have allowed them to attribute components of illustrations by other artists to his hand, suggesting Guaman Poma may have been responsible for the final editing of the illustrations.

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Details of the investigation will be featured in the accompanying exhibition publication and will be presented at a symposium on recent research into the manuscripts and other topics related to the exhibition to be held in October 2008. In addition, a wall panel within the exhibition will highlight the scientific investigation for visitors.

The Marvel and Measure of Peru, Three Centuries of Visual Histories, 1550–1880, will be on view at the Getty Research Institute from July 8, 2008, to October 19, 2008.