Stirrup-Spout Bottle

Date: 12th–5th century B.C.

Geography: Peru, Chicama Valley

Culture: Cupisnique

Medium: Ceramic

Dimensions: H. 9 1/8 x Diam. 6 3/8 in. (23.2 x 16.2 cm)

Classification: Ceramics-Containers

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

Accession Number: 1978.412.38


Stirrup-spout bottles (the name refers to the spout shape, which resembles a riding saddle stirrup) were made for ritual use beginning in the early second millennium B.C. Large numbers of them have been found in elite burials on Peru's northern coast and display unequalled technical and artistic skill. Many are elaborated into three-dimensional sculptures, including humans, plants, animals, and supernatural beings; others show a wide range of surface texturing. The majority of the bottles are a monochrome gray-to-brown black color resulting from firing in a reducing atmosphere. The uneven exposure to fire and air left the surface on this vessel with an irregular dark hue. The profile face of a creature, perhaps a feline, is incised into the well-burnished surface of the globular chamber. An excessively long streamer or tongue projects from the mouth to the bottom of the vessel, and a wide-open eye stares menacingly from under a prominent, sweeping brow. Large felines, particularly jaguars, were important Cupisnique symbols and were frequently depicted on ritual ceramics and temple walls. As the largest and most feared predator in the American tropics, the jaguar was a natural symbol of power and aggression.