Pre-Columbian, Peru, Moche III to Moche IV (Classic Period), ca. 450 to 650 CE. A fascinating and gruesome mold-made ceramic figural vessel in the form of a seated man with a snake wrapped around his neck, the snake's mouth clamped around his erect phallus. The man is nude aside from the snake, with emphasized empty holes on his ears; his hair is smooth and flows down his back. He sits cross-legged on a throne with stepped arms, his hands pressed together in front of his chest. His head is tilted upward, with enormous, bulging eyes, a prominent nose, and his mouth set into a hard line. The throne has two projections from its lower back as well as a tilted stirrup handle with a tall, cylindrical spout. Earthy red and creamy white pigment provide contrast between the figure, the throne, and the handle. Size: 6.25" L x 2.5" W x 4.75" H (15.9 cm x 6.4 cm x 12.1 cm)
Vessels like this one probably were used for holding offerings and pouring libations of chicha onto graves and over the bodies of the dead - so why the snake and the phallus? For the Moche, this was powerful symbolism. Many examples of Moche figures seated on thrones include large and / or erect phalluses, linking the visible trappings of power to the virility of the ruler. Some researchers see parallels between the spout form and the phallus, with libations being equal to semen, a visual pun that indicates an element of humor in Moche funerary rites. The snake, meanwhile, is part of a long tradition of a supernatural being sometimes called the "snake belt god" or the "fanged god." This figure is repeated throughout Moche and other Andean art, including that of the Chavin, Huari, and Tiahuanaco. This vessel was part of the complex relationship between death, sex, and the supernatural that makes up so much of Andean ceramic art.
Provenance: private New York, New York, USA collection; ex private Beverly Hills, California, USA collection
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