Hand with beaker

Inca artist(s)

Not on view

This ceramic effigy of a hand grasping a beaker was made by Inca artists sometime in the century before the beginning of European colonization of Peru. The object was enhanced with the addition of white and red slips (suspensions of clay and/or other colorants in water): white was used on the arm and on the exterior and interior of the vessel; and the hand was painted red, with the exception of the fingernails, which were painted white. Faint traces of geometric patterning are visible on the exterior of the vessel, including small circles.

The significance of the subject of this vessel is unknown. Although at times the ritual amputation of limbs was known to have been practiced in ancient Peru, particularly among the Moche of the North Coast (Bourget, 2016; Toyne, 2015), this object seems unrelated to such practices. The ceramic balances best when the blunt end of the arm is on a surface and the hand sticks up. In this position, liquid would rest in the forearm, and when a drink was to be taken, the piece would be move to a horizontal position so that liquid fill the kero. This suggests that the object references drinking in itself.

Drinking was an essential component of Inca agricultural rituals, diplomatic exchanges, and other events. Beakers, usually made and used in pairs, could range in size from just a few inches to over a foot high. The Incas called wood beakers keros (see, for example, accession number 2004.212, one of several in the Met’s collection), and those made of silver or gold, aquillas. Others, such as accession number 2003.272, and the present example, were made of ceramic. Filled with a maize beer known as chicha, these vessels were prominent visual features of any gathering of significance in the Inca Empire. Keros continued to be made into the colonial period, albeit in different ceremonies and with different imagery (see, for example accession numbers 1994.35.15, .16).

Elaborate toasts were a key part of Inca rituals (Cummins, 2002; Urton and von Hagen, 2015: 171), and such exchanges were occasionally depicted by Inca artists, such as one shown on a copper tumi (a type of knife with a curved blade) illustrated by Emmerich and Lapiner (1969: pl. 56). On this tumi, two men, each with different clothing and hairstyles, face each other holding out a kero. Objects such as this tumi, and the many finely worked vessels that have survived to the present day, speak to the centrality of drinking rituals in Inca life. Indeed, art historian Tom Cummins (2002: 39) has pointed out that in Andean feasts drinking was more important than eating. This enigmatic vessel may have been used in a specific ritual, and later served as a reminder of a memorable event.

Further Reading and References

Bourget, Steve. Sacrifice, Violence, and Ideology Among the Moche: The Rise of social Complexity in Ancient Peru. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016.

Cummins, Thomas B. F. Toasts with the Inca: Andean Abstraction and Colonial Images on Quero Vessels. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002.

Emmerich, André, and Alan Lapiner. Sun Gods and Saints: Art of Pre-Columbian and Colonial Peru. Exh. cat. New York: Andre Emmerich Gallery, 1969.

Lapiner, Alan. Pre-Columbian Art of South America. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1976. See especially p. 319.

Ochoa, Jorge F., Elizabeth K. Arce, and Roberto S. Argumedo. Queros: Arte Inka en Vasos Ceremoniales. Lima: Banco de Crédito, 1998.

Toyne, J. Marla. “The Body Sacrificed: A Bioarchaeological Analysis of Ritual Violence in Ancient Túcume, Peru.” Journal of Religion and Violence 3, no. 10 (2015), pp. 137-171.

Urton, Gary, and Adriana von Hagen. Encyclopedia of the Incas. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

Hand with beaker, Inca artist(s), Ceramic, pigment, slip, Inca

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