Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ

Corpus Christi in Colonial Cuzco, Peru

Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 51 illustrations, 8 in color Published: September 1999

Author: Carolyn J Dean

Art and Visual Culture, Latin American Studies > Andes, Religious Studies

In Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ Carolyn Dean investigates the multiple meanings of the Roman Catholic feast of Corpus Christi as it was performed in the Andean city of Cuzco after the Spanish conquest. By concentrating on the era’s paintings and its historical archives, Dean explores how the festival celebrated the victory of the Christian God over sin and death, the triumph of Christian orthodoxy over the imperial Inka patron (the Sun), and Spain’s conquest of Peruvian society.
As Dean clearly illustrates, the central rite of the festival—the taking of the Eucharist—symbolized both the acceptance of Christ and the power of the colonizers over the colonized. The most remarkable of Andean celebrants were those who appeared costumed as the vanquished Inka kings of Peru’s pagan past. Despite the subjugation of the indigenous population, Dean shows how these and other Andean nobles used the occasion of Corpus Christi as an opportunity to construct new identities through tinkuy, a native term used to describe the conjoining of opposites. By mediating the chasms between the Andean region and Europe, pagans and Christians, and the past and the present, these Andean elites negotiated a new sense of themselves. Dean moves beyond the colonial period to examine how these hybrid forms of Inka identity are still evident in the festive life of modern Cuzco.
Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ offers the first in-depth analysis of the culture and paintings of colonial Cuzco. This volume will be welcomed by historians of Peruvian culture, art, and politics. It will also interest those engaged in performance studies, religion, and postcolonial and Latin American studies.


Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ opens fertile ground for anthropologists and historians, not just for art historians, insofar as it forces us to reconceptualize the place of pre-Columbian symbolism and the memory of its past within the colonial world. It achieves this through the nuanced interpretation of visual materials within the broader context of the consolidation of an indigenous nobility and the conformation of a cityscape that validated their political legitimacy through procession and ritual.” — Joanne Rappaport , CAA Reviews

“[A] significant contribution to a variety of fields. . . . The author presents for the reader an extraordinarily researched book that effectively describes how Corpus Christi both alienated the Andeans and provided the vehicle for their triumph. Carolyn Dean should be commended for a most impressive study.” — Michael J. McGrath , Sixteenth Century Journal

“[A] significant contribution to the study of public ritual of both the Peruvian Roman Catholic Church, and of the contemporary Cuzco elite and citizenry. Dean has not only provided a rich analysis but by so doing has also provided an illustrative example of an approach which seeks to relate the case study method (or micro analysis) to wider theoretical issues (or macro analysis) and the contemporary ethnographical results to historical research . . . . [A]n outstanding example of historical and anthropological research . . . .” — Iain S. Maclean, H-Net Reviews

“[A]n ambitious book with a number of interesting ideas about the making of Peru’s colonial native elite. The author’s important documentary findings contribute to knowledge of Cuzco’s colonial cultural life.” — Gabriela Ramos , Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“[I]t’s precisely Dean’s capacity for fresh, detailed analysis that makes this book such an important contribution to the study of colonial relations and the construction of hegemony. The book does much to move the study of the colonial Andes past old commonplaces and toward nuanced interpretations. . . . This fine study opens up many new pathways, sources and possibilities.” — Kathryn Burns , Journal of Social History

“Carolyn Dean’s book is well thought out, clearly written, and beautifully illustrated. . . . Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ will undoubtedly be of great interest and use to historians in almost any field.” — Eric F. Johnson , Comitatus

“Dean . . . breathes life into Cuzco’s mid-colonial years through a multiperspectival investigation of Corpus Christi. . . . Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ is an exciting treatment of intercultural relations and identity creation in a complex colonial setting. It will be richly instructive for students of colonial Cuzco, Peru, and Latin America, across a variety of disciplines. And it should be obligatory reading for anyone who wants to consider a fine example of how visual and written sources can work together in forming a historical vision.” — Kenneth R. Mills , Hispanic American Historical Review

“Dean quite successfully goes beyond the content analysis of the Corpus Christi and other paintings to explain the social dynamic of status among the Inka nobility of Cuzco. . . . [A]nalysis of the Corpus Christi paintings provides interesting and provocative insights to what motivated the Inka nobility and also non-Inka groups and individuals that challenged the special status of the Inka nobility. . . . [A]n important contribution to colonial Andean social history, and even more so given that it is written from the perspective of art history.” — Robert H. Jackson , Journal of Social History

“Dean shows effectively that the Spaniards’ desire to convert Andeans to Christianity inevitably opened up possibilities for resistance. . . . At her best, Dean challenges mainstream historians and contributes to the diversity and analytic strength of alternative approaches to colonial Latin America and to colonial, postcolonial, and subaltern studies more broadly.” — Anna L. Peterson , Latin American Research Review

“Dean’s book is richly nuanced, moving between an iconographical study of the Corpus Christi paintings and portraits of local indigenous leaders, and a sociohistorical interpretation, using both published and archival sources. . . . [A] well-written and well-argued book that will be of interest to scholars concerned with the complex social history of Christianity and colonial subjectivity.” — Tom Cummins , Journal of Religion

“Merging anthropological theory with a thoughtful discussion of Inca iconography in the Corpus Christi paintings, Dean demonstrates the competition and antagonism within and between Colonial groups, and shows how ritual display and artistic patronage were vehicles for individual agency in the mediation of Colonial identities.” — R. Alan Covey , Comparative Studies in Society and History

"Dean’s understandings of native performance complicate scholars’ frequent yet simplistic interpretation of such performance as the survival/revival of authentic indigenousness in the colonial context. . . . [I]ntriguing. . . ." — Laura A. Lewis , Sixteenth Century Journal

"Each of Dean's chapters provides a wealth of historical and art historical detail that sheds light on ethnic relations in unexpected ways. The book works well as a window into the Cuzco of 1680. It succeeds in shedding a great deal of new light on colonial relations. . . . [I]mpressive. . . . Dean's skilled detective work in reading the pictures for clues of social relations is especially evident in her interpretation of the painting depicting the processional finale. . . ." — Tod Swanson, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"This is a coherently argued book that is based on perceptive visual analyses supported by a good knowledge of historical archives. . . . [I]ntriguing . . . . [T]his is a convincingly argued and thought-provoking book."

— Penny Dransart , Journal of Latin American Studies

“A provocative and nuanced interdisciplinary study. Dean effectively moves beyond mere historical reconstruction to explore the religious festival of Corpus Christi as an aesthetic, expressive, and sociopolitical event not only within colonial Cuzco life but within the broader context of the colonial enterprise in the Americas.” — Jeanette Favrot Peterson, University of California, Santa Barbara

“In Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ, Dean displays superior knowledge of Cuzco society in the seventeenth century: its religious institutions, belief systems, painters, and relations between colonizers and colonized. This long-awaited book will be welcomed by specialists in the field.” — R. T. Zuidema, University of Illinois


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Carolyn Dean is Associate Professor in the Department of Art History at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2367-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2332-7
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