After the Spanish conquest, the process known as “the extirpation of idolatries” sought to eliminate the indigenous forms of worship and beliefs which survived the conquest. These forms were fused or blended with the new ideas which had come from Europe, and under a new guise they continued to transmit their indigenous messages. This process is known as syncretism.
During the colonial period, Andean artists became engaged in reinterpreting the culture of Spain. They assimilated European techniques, adapting them to indigenous resources and practices. The artistic themes introduced by Europeans were blended with ancestral themes. Under a Christian guise, the myths and rites of the Andes were perpetuated.
To this day it is possible to find expressions of syncretism in Peruvian culture, in the form of popular festivities and religious celebrations.
Art was the visual medium in the exercising of ideological domination and for the transmitting of the principal religious messages. The engineers and builders of pyramids moved on to the building of churches. The skilled pottery sculptors began to carve wood for Catholic images. Painters adopted the customs of European schools and worked on canvases that expressed Christian themes.
Painting was the most important medium for catechization, and in these works we can see how syncretic beliefs were expressed. The principal Andean gods were replaced by the Holy Trinity, and the lesser gods by the saints. The Virgin, or Mother Earth [Pachamama] for indigenous people, adopted the form of the Apus, the mountain gods of the people of the Andes, which were huacas, or sacred sites. The Archangel Harquebusiers were easily incorporated into religious imagery because they resembled the Bird Warriors who were ancient Andean deities.
In addition to its religious and artistic aspects, there existed a political element to syncretism. Inca royalty was recognized by the Spanish crown in exchange for its loyalty. The Capac Cuna, or official list of Inca rulers, was reconstructed and incorporated as part of the record of government in the territory conquered by the Spanish.