Description This “stirrup-spout” vessel is striking in its contrast of polished and rough surfaces. On the top, stippled areas contrast with highly polished zones, incised with face of a supernatural creature shown in profile. It seems to combine elements of several different creatures, including a snake’s tongue, but the feline nostrils and prominent fangs of a jaguar. Cupisnique ceramics frequently show jaguars and felines, which were symbols of power associated with rulers. On the bottom half of the vessel is an abstract “step block” design associated with the sacred power of mountains in a region dominated by the monumental Andes mountains. The “stirrup spout” was one of the most common vessel forms in pre-Columbian Peru and the Andean area. A short spout at the top is attached to two tubes which join with the vessel itself. The form is reminiscent of a stirrup for horseback riding, hence the name. The resulting container was beautiful and versatile, since the main vessel could be shaped into many different forms, with a surface that was either carefully polished or highly textured. These vessels were also practical: in the extremely dry deserts of Peru, such a narrow opening prevented evaporation of the liquid held within. The complex shape of the neck also meant that it was easy to carry: two such vessels could be tied to the ends of a cord, to be slung over a person’s shoulder or a llama’s back. Large numbers of vessels like these have been found in burials of elites on the north Coast of Peru beginning about 1800 BCE.
Provenance Mr. Alexis Forrester, London, before the late 1970s [mode of acquisition unknown]; Economos Works of Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; Private collection, 1989, by purchase; Walters Art Museum, 2009, by gift.
Credit Private Collection, New York, 2009
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