In September 1970, General Juan Velasco Alvarado's Revolutionary Government of the Armed Forces launched a competition for the best portrait of José Gabriel Condorcanqui, better known as Túpac Amaru II, the leader of the insurrection that shook the Spanish colonial regime from the high provinces (provincias altas) of Cuzco between 1780 and 1783. The radical Peruvian military regime had appropriated Túpac Amaru as the keystone of its nationalist, antioligarchic imagery: at long last, a revolutionary indigenous hero for the postcolonial Andean nation. In that spirit, the winning portrait would replace that of Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in Lima's presidential palace. The symbolism of the gesture seemed transparent, but official rhetoric could hardly hide the polysemy and political ambiguity of the historical character. No contemporary portraits of Condorcanqui had survived his time; only a description given to counterrevolutionary Spanish judges by...

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