The Larco Museum (Spanish: Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera) is a privately owned museum of pre-Columbian art, located in the Pueblo Libre District of Lima, Peru. The museum is housed in an 18th century vice-royal mansion built over a 7th century pre-Columbian pyramid. It showcases chronological galleries that provide a thorough overview of 4,000 of Peruvian pre-Columbian history. It boasts one of the world's largest collections of pre-Columbian art including Moche, Nazca, Chimú, and Inca pieces. Additionally, the Larco Museum is well known for its gallery of pre-Columbian erotic pottery.
It was one of the first museums in the world to make its entire 45,000 piece collection available in an online electronic catalog.
In 1925, Rafael Larco Herrera acquired a collection of vases and other archaeological pieces from Alfredo Hoyle, who was his brother-in-law. There were approximately 600 ceramic pieces in all. The arrival of these objects ignited a collector's enthusiasm in his son, Rafael Larco Hoyle. Soon after, Larco Herrera left his son in charge of the collection and those pieces completed the first collection of what would become the Rafael Larco Herrera Museum.
During that same year, Larco Hoyle received some advice from his uncle, Victor Larco Herrera, a founder of the first museum in Lima. He urged Larco Hoyle to form a new museum in Lima, one that could guard all the archaeological relics that were continually being extracted by clandestine excavators.
Larco Hoyle agreed with his uncle and proceeded to create a museum that would carry on his father's legacy. Larco Hoyle purchased two large collections: 8,000 pieces from Roa and 6,000 pieces from Carranza. He also purchased several small collections in Chicama Valley, Trujillo, Virú, and Chimbote. Within a year, the collection had grown significantly and display cases were installed in a small house on the Chiclín estate. On July 28, 1926, Independence Day, the museum opened its doors to the public.
The Larco Museum now lends some of its collection to its daughter museum, the Museo de Arte Precolombino (Pre-Columbian Art Museum), located in Cusco, Peru.
The Museum has several permanent exhibitions. The Gold and Silver Gallery showcases the largest collection of jewelry used by many notable rulers of pre-Columbian Peru. It comprises an impressive collection of crowns, earrings, nose ornaments, garments, masks and vases, finely wrought in gold and decorated with semi-precious stones. The Erotic Gallery has become one of South America's most popular attractions. Ancient Peruvian cultures represented their daily lives in ceramics, and this gallery holds the world's largest collection of erotic ceramics.
The Cultures Gallery exhibits 40,000 years of Peruvian pre-Columbian history. This chronology-based gallery provides visitors with a comprehensive view of cultures that existed in pre-Columbian Peru through the extant indigenous art that has survived since the 16th century Spanish conquest. This hall is divided into four areas: North Coast, Center, South and cultures from the highlands. Showcases have been ordered according to cultural sequence:
- From the North Coast: Cupisnique, Vicus, Mochica and Chimu;
- From the Central Coast: Lima and Chancay;
- From the South Coast: Paracas, Nazca and Chincha;
- From the Highlands: Chavín, Tiahuanaco, Huari and Inca.
Other galleries include the Lithic, Vault, Ceramics, Metals, Textiles and Storage in which visitors have the opportunity to view the Museum's entire collection of classified archaeological objects.
In addition to its permanent exhibits, the Larco Museum lends its collections to several museums and cultural centers around the world. Currently, there are traveling exhibits in Tokyo, Japan and Budapest, Hungary.
The Larco Museum prides itself in the conservation and restoration of Peru's archaeological patrimony. With over 80 years of experience, the Museum has become one of the most prestigious institutions on conservation and restoration of archaeological Peruvian objects. The Museum houses conservation laboratories for textiles, ceramics and metals.
Other points of interest
The Museum Café is a restaurant located in the terrace and garden of the museum. Its interior, designed by architect Jordi Puig, provides the ambiance of an old chateau.
The Museum Gallery Shop has a wide variety of ceramic, metal and textile reproductions made by skilled craftsmen from all over Peru. The museum has formalized the reproduction techniques for these pre-Columbian artifacts and assesses each piece to ensure quality.
HStern Jewellers and Kuna by Alpaca 111 also have storefronts at the Museum. The Museum also features gardens that have received a Colonial Garden award from Peru.