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Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Prisoner Lime Container

6th–9th century
Wood, bone inlay, paint
H. 3 x W. 1 1/2 x D. 1 5/16 in. (7.6 x 3.8 x 3.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Rogers Fund and Carol R. Meyer and Arthur M. Bullowa Gifts, 1977
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 357
This small wood sculpture is a container that in ancient times would have held powdered lime made from calcined seashells. The lime would have been taken from the container through the hole in the top by means of a little spatuala or spoon. Lime was a necessary part of the ritual of coca-leaf chewing; the coca leaves were put into the mouth to form a quid, and then the lime was added. Ancient lime containers are known in a variety of different forms and materials, and among them those of Huari-Tiahuanaco times of about the eighth or ninth century are of particular interest. Often sculptural in form and made of wood, they can be rather elaborately conceived for such small works. This figure, wearing a checkerboard shirt and a feline's-head helmet, also has designs painted on his cheeks, a short, broad nose ornament and hands "tied" behind his back by a still present "rope" or cord. The bone inlay in the stomach adds richness to an already quite richly ornamented figure. Why a lime container would be made in the form of a bound figure is presently unclear. The container is allegedly from the site of Cahuachi in the Nazca Valley.
[Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York until 1960s]; Mr. and Mrs. Jerome M. Pustilnik, New York, acquired by 1966, until 1977

Lapiner, Alan C. Pre-Columbian Art of South America. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1976, p. 255, figs. 590, 591.

Jones, Julie. Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1975–1979. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1979, p. 95.

Jones, Mark. The art of the medal. London, 1979, pp. 91–96.

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