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HOME : PRE COLUMBIAN ART : Pre-Columbian Art Collection/ HK : Moche Stirrup Vessel
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Moche Stirrup Vessel - X.0625
Origin: Northern Coast of Peru
Circa: 1 AD to 500 AD
Dimensions: 7.75" (19.7cm) high x 3" (7.6cm) wide x 6" (15.2cm) depth
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Medium: Terracotta

Additional Information: Hong-Kong

Location: UAE
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The Moche civilisation once dominated the northern Peruvian coastline, rising to power after the demise of the Pan-Andean Chavin culture. The area in question is extremely hot and dry: however, the Moche (also known as the Mochica) undertook a process of canalisation, damming and flooding rivers in order to create a highly productive and localised socioeconomic entity. Elites and social structures appeared, as did a highly complex (not to mention sanguineous) religious structure, directly linked to the administration. Craft specialisation was an inevitable product of this process: pottery, metalwork and painting all thrived, supplying the elites and religious orders with works of unparalleled beauty. Indeed, it has been claimed that the quality of these works have never been surpassed in the Americas, while the quality of the ceramics is doubtless one of the finest in the whole of the ancient world. These have served as valuable social documents as well as stunning works of art, for the scenes painted upon them from the mundane to the erotic, the ritual to the domestic are the only direct evidence we have of the lifestyles of these pre-literate peoples.

This piece is an admirable demonstration of the skill of the ceramicist and the painter. Formed in a mould and finished by hand, the vessel is formed into a stirrup format that is to say, a main body with an attached loop-and-spout handle. These had no utilitarian function, and were manufactured specifically for inclusion in graves. The body is drum-shaped and rounded, with a flat base. This is an unusually ornate example the upper aspect of the vessels junction with the handle is surmounted by the head of a snarling feline, probably a jaguar, with open mouth and large, rounded ears. The ground of the vessel is painted a creamy yellow in colour, with the details of the jaguar picked out in lines and spots of terra-cotta red. Smaller details are picked out in dark brown. The dorsal aspect of the vessel is painted in checks of cream/yellow and red, with sun motifs decorating the former. The sides of the vessel are decorated with dark brown images of the decapitator god, a crocodilian-headed deity that regularly appears on the walls of the Huaca de la Luna and the Huaca del Brujo, wielding a decapitation axe and the head of a vanquished opponent. This grisly ceremony was once thought to be fanciful, but gained some archaeological substantiation in the 1990s with the discovery of numerous mutilated, clubbed, beaten and decapitated young males at the apex of the Huaca de la Luna, near modern-day Trujillo. Many other similar cases have since come to light. It would appear that this was the fate of most captives in Moche hands: stable isotope evidence has determined that these unfortunate individuals were all alien to the Moche territory, therefore suggesting that they were invaders from another sociopolitical entity. The power of spectacle was not lost on the Moche, as judged from numerous ceramic scenes depicting public executions. As a polity run by warrior elites, it is likely that the populace viewed violence both with reverence, and as a fact of everyday life. - (X.0625)


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