Spotted Feline Bottle


Not on view

This stirrup-spout ceramic vessel, depicting a snarling pampas cat, was made by potters of Peru’s Moche culture in the middle of the first millennium A.D. Moche artists were great observers of the natural world and depicted animals with a keen attention to detail, which often allows the precise identification of the subject matter. Here, the ceramicist captured the distinctive coat and leg markings, as well as the bushy tail, of the pampas cat (Leopardus colocolo).

Felines, including pumas, jaguars, and pampas cats, are a favorite subject in Moche ceramics, wood, and metal work. These cats were the most powerful predators on Peru’s North Coast, territory governed by the Moche. The strength and agility of these mammals, as well as their ability to bring down much larger prey such as deer, may account for the numerous depictions of cats on objects meant to represent power and domination. The gaping mouth with its large canines, piercing eyes, and powerful limbs project the creature’s strength and cunning, and perhaps those of the individual who possessed this object.

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 may have provided a convenient handle. 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.

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 (Castillo, 2017). 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 shared unifying cultural traits such as religious practices (Donnan, 2010).

References and Further Reading

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. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2017, pp. 24–31.

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

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

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


Wassermann-San Blás, Bruno John. Céramicas del antiguo Perú de la Colección Wassermann-San Blás. Buenos Aires: Bruno John Wassermann-San Blás, 1938. no. 79, pp. 102.

Spotted Feline Bottle, Ceramic, pigment, Moche

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