Pre-Columbian, Northern Peru, Chavin to Vicus transition period, ca. 400 to 100 BCE. A unique ceramic vessel, standing on three legs and in the form of a shaman transforming into a zoomorphic, possibly serpentine creature. A wide strap handle attaches at the back of the head to a tall conical spout near the back end of the animal's body. The face is extraordinary: rectangular, with a border of white and black triangles around three quarters of the head. The face has huge, long, slit-like eyes surrounded by white and black rings, a giant, projecting nose, and a small, slit-like mouth. Two short goatees project from either side of the face. The body is long and low, with two stubby front legs and a long, tail-like single back leg. The body has two wide white stripes around its shoulder and then low around its body. Painted between these two bands are repeated concentric circles. Size: 9.75" L x 5.45" W x 8.15" H (24.8 cm x 13.8 cm x 20.7 cm)
What was the purpose of a vessel like this? We believe that it and ones like it played a role in funerary culture, as grave offerings, and in feasting, to drink ritual liquids. It may also have been also used in funerary feasting, a practice known from the ancient Andes, where the remains of ancestors were brought out to be feasted with on important days. Transformative figures that combine human and animal abound in ancient Peru, and seem to have been associated with shamanic, hallucinogenic rituals as well as the human desire to draw upon the fierce power of auspicious animals.
Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection; ex H. J. Westermann collection, Germany
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