Feline-shaped spout-and-bridge bottle

Paracas artist(s)

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 202

This vessel’s body, with its spotted torso, striped head, limbs and bushy tail, resembles a pampas cat (Leopardus colocola) or an Andean mountain cat (Leopardus jacobita), small felines that live in the coastal valleys and the adjacent piedmont of what is now Peru. Stylized birds, incised and painted on the sides of the body, may represent a highland species such as a condor, as well as smaller coastal species such as Andean swifts, common along the Pacific littoral.

During the first millennium B.C., potters on the South Coast of Peru developed a distinctive ceramic style, known today as Paracas, characterized by vibrant colors. Using mostly mineral pigments mixed with a binding agent, Paracas artists created paints that were applied to the surface of ceramics after they were fired. At a time when most ceramics in the Central Andes were of a dark hue, the Paracas palette was a striking departure and a significant innovation. Some Paracas pottery designs originated in earlier North Coast and North Highlands traditions, such as Cupisnique and Chavín. Felines, for example, were a favored subject in both the north and south, but Paracas artists tended to render their cats in a more geometricized style. Here, the cat’s head, created with the use of a bowl-shaped form, was finished with eyes, ears, whiskers, an appliquéd nose, and a maw revealing sharp fangs. The cat’s forehead displays parallel bands, a pattern found on the fur of many Andean felines. Most Paracas ceramics are simple forms such as bottles, plates, and bowls. By contrast, this feline is an exceptional example of imagination and ingenuity, the tridimensional body created by combining multiple simpler forms.

This work was reportedly found at the site of Callango in the Ica Valley during the early half of the 20th century (Lapiner 1976).

Hugo C. Ikehara-Tsukayama, Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial/Collection Specialist Fellow, Arts of the Ancient Americas, 2022

References and Further Reading

De Leonardis, Lisa. "Encoded Process, Embodied Meaning in Paracas Post-Fired Painted Ceramics." In Making Value, Making Meaning: Techné in the Pre-Columbian World, edited by Cathy Lynne Costin, Washington, D.C: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2016, pp. 129-66.

Kriss, Dawn, et al. "A Material and Technical Study of Paracas Painted Ceramics." Antiquity vol. 92, no. 366 (2018), pp. 1492-510.

Kaulicke, Peter. "Paracas y Chavín. Variaciones sobre un tema longevo." Boletín de Arqueología PUCP no. 17 (2017), pp. 263-89.

Lapiner, Alan C. Pre-Columbian Art of South America. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1976, pp. 71-108.

Lavalle, José Antonio and Walter Lang. Arte y tesoros del Perú. Paracas. Lima: Banco de Crédito del Perú, 1983.

Paul, Anne. Paracas Art & Architecture. Object & Context in South Coastal Peru. Iowa City: University of Iowa press, 1961.

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

Feline-shaped spout-and-bridge bottle, Paracas artist(s), Ceramic, post-fire paint, Paracas

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