Raptorial Bird Bottle


Not on view

This painted stirrup-spout bottle, depicting two raptorial birds, was produced by Moche artists of Peru’s North Coast. This type of ceramic is called “fineline,” so named for the detailed figures and scenes delicately painted in red slip (a suspension of clay and/or other colorants in water) on a white background. On this vessel the artist illustrated two almost identical raptorial birds, perhaps hawks, falcons, or ospreys, separated by war bundles consisting of a shield, a mace, and spears or darts. Both shields are decorated with sunburst-like designs reminiscent of those seen on actual gilded copper shield frontals (see, for example, one in the Met’s collection, accession number 1987.394.129). Raptorial birds are fierce predators capable of snatching animals both in open regions and in forested terrain. As such, these creatures would be suitable symbols of a warrior’s might.

The stirrup-spout vessel—the shape of the spout recalls the stirrup on a horse's saddle—was a much favored form on Peru's North Coast for about 2,500 years. Although the importance and symbolism of this distinctive shape is still puzzling to scholars, the double-branch/single-spout configuration may have prevented evaporation of liquids, and/or that it was convenient for transportation. Early in the first millennium A.D., the Moche elaborated stirrup-spout bottles into sculptural shapes depicting a wide range of subjects, including human figures, animals, and plants worked with a great deal of naturalism. About 500 years later, bottle chambers became predominantly globular, as in the present vessel, providing large surfaces for painting complex, multi-figure scenes.

The Moche (also known as the Mochicas) flourished on Peru’s North Coast from A.D. 200-850, centuries before the rise of the Incas. Over the course of some six centuries, the Moche built thriving regional centers from the Nepeña River Valley in the south to perhaps as far north as the Piura River, near the modern border with Ecuador, developing coastal deserts into rich farmlands and drawing upon the abundant maritime resources of the Pacific Ocean’s Humboldt Current. Although the precise nature of Moche political organization is a subject of debate, these centers may have shared unifying cultural traits such as religious practices (Donnan, 2010).

Published references

Wassermann-San Blás, Bruno John. Céramicas del antiguo Perú de la colección Wassermann-San Blás. Buenos Aires: Bruno John Wassermann-San Blás, 1938, no. 81, p. 52.

References and further reading

Bourget, Steve. “Rituals of Sacrifice: Its Practice at Huaca de la Luna and Its Representation in Moche Iconography,” in Moche Art and Archaeology in Ancient Peru, edited by Joanne Pillsbury, pp. 88-109. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 2001.

Castillo, Luis Jaime. “Masters of the Universe: Moche Artists and Their Patrons,” in Golden Kingdoms: Luxury Arts in the Ancient Americas, edited by Joanne Pillsbury, Timothy Potts, and Kim N. Richter, pp. 24-31. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2017.

Donnan, Christopher B. and Donna McClelland. Moche Fineline Painting, Its Evolution and Its Artists. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum of Cultural History, University of California, Los Angeles, 1999.

Donnan, Christopher B. “Moche State Religion,” in New Perspectives on Moche Political Organization, edited by Jeffrey Quilter and Luis Jaime Castillo, pp. 47-69. Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2010.

Golte, Jürgen. Moche cosmología y sociedad. Lima and Cusco: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos-Centro Bartolomé de Las Casas, 2009.

Lavallée, Daniéle. “Les représentations animales dans la céramique Mochica.” Paris: Université de Paris. Mémoires de l’Instiute d’Ethnologie – Institut d’Ethnologie. Musée de l’Homme, 1970.

Mujica Barreda, Elías, et al., El Brujo: Huaca Cao, Centro Ceremonial Moche en el Valle de Chicama. Lima: Fundación Wiese, 2007.

Pardo, Cecilia, and Julio Rucabado, editors. Moche y sus vecinos. Reconstruyendo identidades. Lima: Museo de Arte de Lima, 2016.

Raptorial Bird Bottle, Ceramic, pigment, Moche

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