Feline Incense Vessel
Not on view
The ceramic vessels of highland Tiwanaku are sturdy and clean lined, with a no-nonsense approach to shape that sets them apart from the sculptural ceramic traditions of the coastal regions to the north. Surface color too is restrained, with a pre-dominance of earth tones in a limited range of hue. This flaring-side vessel is a typical, but distinctive, Tiwanaku type. It has a large feline head on one side and a stumpy, erect tail on the other. The head is surrounded by a large flange on which remnants of a design appear. Winged profile felines are on each side of the vessel. These big-footed cats abundantly fill the space allotted to them. Their eyes are round and divided in half with one half white and the other black, a stylization that was widely used on feline images.
Vessels such as these usually represent either large cats or llamas. A number are modeled on the shape of the animal itself, with the animal's body forming the vessel container. The insides of both modeled and abstract vessels are often found blackened and sooty. This has lead to the conclusion that they were censers in Precolumbian times. When in use, smoke would have come from the open mouth of the feline head of this example, which does have a soot-blackened interior.
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.