Ancient Forms for the Modern Eye April 2018 - Page 71

Andean Animals Effigy Vessels
Pre-Columbian art generally focused on the representation of idealized
civilization in the north central highlands of Peru (1200–500 BC). Artisans
portraits of rulers, nobles, warriors and court life, as well as esoteric
created pottery stirrup spout vessels, in which the two halves of the piece
religious ceremonies and supernatural beings. However, many ancient
were made in molds, with an open spout attached to a stirrup-shaped
American cultures produced other objects which from our point of view
handle. Chavín stirrup-spout vessels, often have esoteric subject matter, but
are rather realistic depictions of creatures from the natural world.
many of their animal vessels are very life-like and are even recognizable
Early Peruvian societies, like Chavín, Salinar and Recuay, made such
as particular species to the modern eye. Most Peruvian pottery adapted
things in their own distinctive artistic traditions. The later Moche on the
motifs to the shape of stirrup-spout vessels. Late in the Chavín sequence,
north coast of Peru are particularly well known for vibrant images of
some regional societies made realistic stirrup pots with fish or shell motifs.
birds, felines, llamas, sea lions and frogs. Likewise, the ancient cultures
With the collapse of Chavín civilization, the Moche (AD 200–800) began
of Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama in Lower Central America are
to produce quantities of fine vessels with naturalistic motifs. The Moche
well-known for their cast gold pendants of eagles and frogs. The Pre-
inhabited the arid coastal plain of northern Peru, where settlements
Columbian cultures of the modern West Mexican states of Colima, Jalisco
were established in a series of valleys cut by rivers which flow out of the
and Nayarit made numerous ceramic models of animals and plants. The
Andes toward the Pacific coast. By channeling the rivers into a complex
later Aztec are equally known for their beautifully carved stone sculptures
network of irrigation canals, the Moche maintained a highly productive
of natural forms like jaguars, coyotes, serpents, grasshoppers, shells, cactus
agricultural system with patchworks of green fields growing a wide variety
and squashes.
of nutritious crops such as corn, beans, guava, avocados, squash, chili
Despite the accessible realism of such images, they were usually made
peppers and peanuts, as well as cotton and other domesticated plants.
for the use of rulers and members of elite society and carried symbolic
The Moche excelled in the manufacture of both metalwork and ceramics.
meanings. For example, Chavín gold and bone fish ornaments were
Later Andean societies, such as the Chimú and Wari continued to produce
attached to nobles’ garments as signs of prestige. Costa Rican gold eagle
life-like stirrup-spout zoomorphic representations. The stirrup-spout vessel
pendants were worn by rulers. Both Olmec and West Mexican effigy vessels
disappears with the rise of the Inca, who were conquered by the Spanish
are ceramic containers for liquid offerings, perhaps fermented alcoholic
in the sixteenth century. Nonetheless, Chimú artisans, who were controlled
drinks, made to be placed in the graves of rulers and nobles.
by the Inca, produced ceramic and gold images, as well as textiles with
Not surprisingly, the symbolic meaning of animals and plants varies through
motifs of Spondylus shells, fish, deer, felines and birds as well as a variety of
the ancient Americas. Most cultures associated frogs with springtime, the
plant forms. Regardless of the religious iconography associated with these
rejuvenation of the earth and human fertility. However, Aztec grasshoppers
images, Andean artisans demonstrate great ability to reproduce remarkably
were emblems of a sacred hilltop in the capital city. Serpents, whether a
life-like images of the natural world based on careful observation of the
small individual sculpture or a monumental architectural element attached
world around them. The ancient Andean bestiary is particularly charming
to the bottom of staircases on Aztec pyramids, alluded to Quetzalcoatl, the
and evocative leaving the viewer to marvel at the lively representation of
Plumbed Serpent and feathered sky-serpent deity.
the natural world and wonder about the meaning these pieces had to the
Sophisticated ceramic production in the Andes began with the Chavín
ancient cultures that created them and treasured them over 2,000 years.


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