Peru's Private Treasures at Museo Larco

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courtesy of Museo Larco, Lima, Peru

Larco obsessively amassed objects spanning thousands of years

Peru's ancient past may dazzle, but its poorly funded public archaeological museums fail to shine nearly as bright, and many important collections remain in private hands. Of these, none are more important than that housed in Lima's 85-year-old but freshly revamped Museo Larco.

Set in a restored 18th century hacienda in the working-class district of Pueblo Libre, the museum is home to some 45,000 pieces of Incan, Nazca and Chimu artifacts, including a one-of-a-kind collection of double take — inducing erotic art. Much of it was assembled by museum founder Rafael Larco Hoyle, a Cornell-educated Peruvian industrialist, archaeologist and scion of an entire family of collectors.

Their trove is now showcased in refurbished surroundings. The cluttered, hodgepodge displays are gone, replaced by more formal arrangements elegantly presented in roomy galleries where hardwood floors and ceilings evoke the original hacienda. Works are categorized both thematically and chronologically and include jewelry, headdresses, ceramics, ancient stone carvings and textiles as well as the mesmerizingly morbid masks, weapons and vessels used in sacrificial ceremonies. In total, the collection represents some 9,000 years of Peruvian craft.

The museum's external areas have been upgraded as well. Large earthen statuary contrasts with brightly hued orchids and bougainvillea in the elaborate gardens (built, incidentally, on the site of a 7th century pyramid). Nearby, a new café and restaurant — designed by local interior ace Jordi Puig — serves contemporary takes on Peruvian classics by chef Gastón Acurio, a near national icon and the father of "new Andean" cuisine.

The Museo Larco is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. See