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Moche (Peru)

Spotted feline effigy vessel

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Object Details

Culture

Moche (Peru)

Date

400 BC-100 AD

Medium

Earthenware

Dimensions

6 3/8 × 7 1/16 × 3 9/16 inches (16.2 × 18 × 9 cm)

Credit Line

Gift of Thomas Carroll, PhD 1951

Object
Number

2006.070.390

WHERE WAS IT MADE?This was made along the northern coast of Peru. Moche settlements were mainly conf(…)

WHERE WAS IT MADE?This was made along the northern coast of Peru. Moche settlements were mainly confined to the flood plains of the Chicama, Moche, and Viru valleys.HOW WAS IT MADE?Animal vessels were typically made with mold technology, which allowed for the production of multiple similar objects. The molds were made of two pieces, which formed the front and back halves of the object. The mold was then lined with clay and the two halves were joined together. The stirrup spout was made separately and added before firing.The clay used to make these vessels is known as terracotta, and the presence of iron in the clay gives it the reddish-brown hue. When the ceramics were fired in shallow earthen pits, the presence of heat and oxygen would oxidize the iron in the clay, enhancing the colors of brown, red and orange. The combination of red and tan designs is characteristic of Moche ceramics. White clay was used to produce a paint called slip (clay diluted with water), which could then be applied to create designs. Sometimes the white slip was used to create the ground, while red slip was used to add the designs. After the slip dried, but before the clay was fired, pieces were often burnished, as this one has been.HOW WAS IT USED?Though this vessel is able to hold liquids, it was more likely used for religious ritual or liturgical purposes, in which it might have held chicha, a fermented ceremonial beverage. The entire body of the animal surrounding the hollow center serves to animate the object. Notice the emphasis on the feline’s mouth, highlighting the animal’s inner cavities and its ability to store liquids.WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS?The Moche people worshipped animals, and often depicted them on their crafts. Animal imagery on ceramic vessels was mostly limited in subject to owls, lizards, and felines. These animals were made with a combination of naturalistic animal and humanized features (such as, for example, this object’s human-like eyes). This allows them to be read not only as ordinary animals, but also as icons or religious symbols.ABOUT THE MOCHE CULTURE:Arguably one of the finest technological manifestations of the pre-Columbian potter’s art, Moche ceramics have charmed generations of archaeologists and collectors with their finely executed painting and exquisite sculptural forms. Moche (formerly known as Mochica) pottery is characterized by red painting executed on a white or cream-colored slip ground. Moche stirrup-spout bottles represent a wide variety of sculptural forms, including human portraits, animal effigies, domestic scenes, or graphic human sexuality. The core area of Moche cultural influence extended from Lambayeque in the north to Nepeña in the south, and likely reflects militaristic conquest and political control by a state-level polity centered in the Moche Valley. The Moche united many coastal groups, built and controlled extensive irrigation networks, and produced ceramic vessels using molds, a technological innovation which enabled the production of vast numbers of highly detailed ceramics, including portrait head vessels so finely detailed that individual faces can be recognized. Fineline paintings depict detailed, elaborate scenes now thought to be part of the “warrior sacrifice” or “presentation theme” story central to the Moche religion. Moche metalwork also achieved remarkable levels of sophistication, with precious stones inlaid in ornaments made of copper, silver, and gold alloys.

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