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Bottle, Monkey

Date: 1st century B.C.–A.D. 1st century

Geography: Peru, Ica Valley

Culture: Nasca

Medium: Ceramic, slip

Dimensions: Overall: 6 1/2 in. (16.51 cm)
Other: 8 1/8 in. (20.6 cm)

Classification: Ceramics-Containers

Credit Line: Gift of Nathan Cummings, 1963

Accession Number: 63.232.46

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 357
This double-spouted bottle features the horizontal relief figure of a monkey decorated with red, white, and black slip. Vegetal leaves decorate the monkey’s body. A human face is incised into the end of its tail, which encircles the bottle’s chamber. Vessels like this one were most likely made sometime around A.D. 425–550 by the Nasca culture of Peru’s south coast. The form of the figure on this bottle may be the “Mythical Monkey,” which has been identified on late Paracas and early Nasca embroidered textiles dating from 100 B.C.–A.D. 100. The Paracas culture predates the Nasca on the south coast of Peru. This bottle’s human features, agricultural plant decoration, and forehead ornaments are characteristic of the Mythical Monkey, and distinguish this bottle from other vessels in a monkey shape in the MMA collection like 1988.281.1 and 63.232.47. Although monkeys are not native to coastal Peru, the Mythical Monkey figure is a prevalent motif in Nasca iconography often associated with water.

Highly skilled Nasca potters hand-formed vessels through various techniques, like coiling and using a paddle and anvil, to achieve a wide range of forms. Expanding on the technology of their Paracas (700 B.C.–A.D. 1) predecessors, the Nasca are noted for their use of extremely fine polychrome slip pigments. In contrast to the ceramics of Paracas, which were painted post-fired, Nasca potters applied a mixture of coloring agents and natural chemical compounds before firing their vessels. After firing, the hardened slip was then polished to a glossy finish with implements like canvas and leather strips or pumpkin rinds. Bottles like this one may have held liquids and been used for ritual purposes. Like many ancient societies, the Nasca included highly decorated bottles in graves of the deceased along with valuable textiles and other precious mortuary goods.

Anne Carlisle, M.A. Candidate, Bard Graduate Center, 2017

Sources and Further Reading

Lasaponara, Rosa. Nicola Masini, and Giuseppe Orefici, editors The Ancient Nasca World: New Insights from Science and Archaeology. Springer Press, 2016.

Proulx, David A. “The Nasca Culture: An Introduction.” In Nasca: Geheimnisvolle Zeichen im Alten Peru, edited by Judith Rickenbach, pp. 59-77. Zürich: Museum Rietberg Zürich, 1999.

Proulx, Donald A.A Sourcebook of Nasca Ceramic Iconography: Reading a Culture Through its Art. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2006.

Proulx, Donald A., “Paracas and Nasca: Regional Cultures on the South Coast of Peru” in Handbook of South American Archaeology,edited by Helaine Silverman and William Isbell, pp. 563-584. Springer, 2008.

Sawyer, Alan. Ancient Peruvian Ceramics: The Nathan Cummings Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1966.

Stone, Rebecca.Art of the Andes: From Chavín to Inca. New York: Thames & Hudson World of Art Series, 2012.
Nathan Cummings, Chicago, until 1963

Sawyer, Alan Reed. Ancient Peruvian Ceramics: The Nathan Cummings Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1966, no. 144, pp. 98–99.

Stone-Miller, Rebecca. Art of the Andes: From Chavín to Inca. New York: Thames & Hudson Inc., 1996.

Proulx., Donald A. "The Nasca Culture: An Introduction." In Nasca: Geheimnisvolle Zeichen im Alten Peru, edited by Judith Rickenbach. Zürich: Museum Rietberg, 1999, pp. 59–77.

Proulx., Donald A. A Sourcebook of Nasca Ceramic Iconography: Reading a Culture Through its Art. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2006.

Proulx., Donald A. "Paracas and Nasca: Regional Cultures on the South Coast of Peru." In Handbook of South American Archaeology, edited by Helaine Silverman, and William H. Isbell. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2008, pp. 563–84.

Lasaponara, Rosa, Nicola Masini, and Giuseppe Orefici, eds. The Ancient Nasca World: New Insights from Science and Archaeology. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2016.