Feline Incense Vessel

Date: 6th–9th century

Geography: Bolivia or Peru

Culture: Tiwanaku

Medium: Ceramic

Dimensions: H. 10 1/8 x W. 8 1/4 in. (25.7 x 21 cm)

Classification: Ceramics-Containers

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1969

Accession Number: 1978.412.100


The hourglass shape was a favored ritual vessel form in the southern Andean highlands for at least a thousand years. This impressive vessel is in that shape and has a large modeled feline head with wide open eyes and bared teeth on one side of the rim. The body of the bowl is between it and a short, erect tail. The feline head is surrounded by a square "collar" with remains of a design on it. On the outside of the vessel are two winged, big-footed felines standing in profile. Their round eyes are divided in half, with one side white and the other black, a convention much used on feline images at the time. The inside of the bowl is blackened, suggesting its use as a censer. Smoke would have come from the animal's open mouth. Such incense burners were also made in the shape of llamas and raptors.