Fox Warrior Bottle


Not on view

This stirrup-spout bottle, crafted by people of the Moche culture on the North Coast of Peru, depicts an anthropomorphic fox with human attributes represented in three dimensions. The tridimensional top of the bottle can be interpreted either as a zoomorphized war club or as a fox warrior tying a mace-shaped headdress under its chin. A spray of fruits or tubers, perhaps peppers, is modeled on the top of the club. Clubs, lances, and helmet strings painted in red slip radiate from the neck of the vessel to circumference of the chamber. In both two and three dimensions, weapons, and the broader theme of warfare, are celebrated on this vessel.

Foxes are often depicted as warriors in Moche art (Donnan and McClelland, 1999). (For other examples of fox warriors in the collection of the Met, see 63.226.6 and 82.1.29.) The role of foxes in Moche religion may derive from their behavior in the natural world. Foxes hunt and capture small prey, much as warriors would fight and capture prisoners. Foxes also may be associated with the world of the dead, as they are primarily nocturnal and live in underground burrows.

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. About 500 years later, bottle chambers became predominantly globular, as in the vessel pictured above, providing large surfaces for painting.

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. 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

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).

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), pp. 47-69.

Fox Warrior Bottle, Ceramic, slip, pigment, Moche

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