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Moche Stirrup Spout Vessels

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    Moche Stirrup Spout Vessels:Introduction:The word “Moche” refers to an archaeological site, an ancient language, an art style, a people, and a culture – a civilization that flourished on the northern Peruvian coast between 200 B.

    C. and 700 A. D. It was a militaristic society that took its name after its language Mochica (Keatinge, 1988).

    Moche is also the name of the main administrative center of northern Peru (Keatinge, 1988). Moche is situated around two large platform pyramids and currently it is one of Peru’s monumental ancient sites. Archaeological study of Moche cities have revealed that Moche society was made up of warrior-priest rulers, weavers, metal-smiths, potters, farmers, and fishermen. Though the people of Moche were predominantly engaged in military activities, they also had excellent artistic taste.

    Moche tombs were filled with some exquisitely designed pottery and metal work of the Central Andean Area (Keatinge, 1988). These ceramic objects of Moche are beautiful and are especially valued for the paintings they carry. The Moche people of ancient Peru painted lively informative scenes on ceramic objects, a vast majority of them being special vessels known as stirrup spout vessels because of the unique shape of their handles and spouts. Moche stirrup spout vessels are significant because of the detailed painting designs that give a deep insight into the culture of Moche by depicting the legends, stories and ritual ceremonies of this ancient Peruvian civilization.

    Moche vessels – a general perspective:a. Historical facts: Moche vessels are generally found in tombs located in the northern, coastal departments of Lambayeque and La Libertad, and in the north of the Ancash department, Peru. The most important items date from between 200 and 700 AD.b.

    Artistic Nature: Moche pottery is considered highly significant mainly due to its artistic nature. Moche vessels in general are colorfully slipped, thin-walled, crafted with great detail and were comparable to the finest ceramics of Classical antiquity. The Moche style developed on the north coast of Peru between 100 BCE and 700 CE. Generally Moche art on ceramics dealt with figures of men, women, animals, anthropomorphized demons, and deities and showcased activities such as hunting, fishing, combat, sexual acts, and elaborate ceremonies (Beiner, 2006).

    c. Types of Moche Pottery: Moche pottery is of two types: sculptural and figural. Both types are finely detailed and exceptionally realistic and serve as a historical and cultural record of Moche civilization (Beiner, 2006). The most common Moche vessel form is the stirrup-spout bottle, which is made with a great degree of artistic elaboration.

    d. Pottery and painting techniques: It is amazing to note that Moche potters were the first to develop the techniques of press molding and stamping and it was the development of such techniques that led to the profound growth of ceramics in the Andean region (Beiner, 2006).  After being baked in the kiln, Moche ceramic products were painted with organic black pigment and later scorched artistically to include fine details such as face and body paint, mustaches and designs on clothing. Some ceramics have embedded pieces of shell, stone or metal.

    These embellishments were carefully cemented into socket-like depressions that are made on the surface of the clay during the manufacturing stage (Beiner, 2006).Moche Stirrup Spout Vessel:a. Historical facts: One of the most common form of Moche ceramic work was the stirrup vessel. What is known with certainty is that the stirrup vessel had been produced in the north coastal region for more than 1500 years before the rise of Moche civilization and continued into the early colonial period, over 700 years after the demise of this culture.

    b. The basic structure: In its simplest form, Moche stirrup spout vessel has a ceramic body surmounted by an arched tube that pierces it in two points, and is itself pierced by a vertical spout. No particular reason for the stirrup spout design has been found as yet. It is generally assumed that the looped spout may have served as a handle and also provided ventilation during the act of pouring.

      Maybe these forms were easy to make from the potter’s viewpoint. It comes in various decorated shapes and models. Some of them have three-dimensional sculptural forms depicting animals, human and supernatural figures, portraits of important individuals, and a variety of other motifs familiar from the daily life and mythology of the time. Moche stirrup spout vessels were generally made in two colors: cream and red-brown or brick red.

    When the vessel has a globular shape, it has stirrup-spouts over the body whereas in the other vessels stirrup-spouts are located in the rear or sides. Though they come in many sizes, these vessels have an average height of 35 cm and average diameter of 20 cm (Donnan, 1999). The artwork on the Moche vessels was similar in some ways to that of Egyptians: legs were painted in side view, the torso is frontal, the face is in profile, yet the eye is frontal (Donnan, 1992). The distinctive stirrup spout is seen at the rear.

    c. Decorative Aspect: Stirrup-spout globular vessels have a smooth surface and are painted elaborately.  Sometimes, they have a cream colored background. The paintings have varied figurative themes such as war, ceremonies, hunting, fishing and sacrifices.

    In some cases, the paintings showcase burials, healing rites, the presentation of goblets between high-ranking individuals, and scenes of deer hunts and warfare (Berrin, 1997). The paintings showcase warriors, priests and a few women. The warrior priest is always depicted as wearing a conical helmet and his body armor features a back flap. The depictions on Moche vessels are essentially realistic in that they portray the actual clothing, ornaments, and weapons that have been found in Moche burials.

    There are decorative geometric designs such as lines, curves, spirals, triangles, ladder-like motifs and zigzags (Donnan, 1999). Figural vessels that are in the shape of particular figures portray armed warriors, bound prisoners, and mythological characters with feline fangs. Some of them feature erotic scenes or sacrifices. There are portrait jars in the shape of a human head with realistic facial features.

    Vessels in the shape of animals, sea creatures, vegetables, temples and mountains are common and are found in cream, red-brown and black colors (Donnan, 1999). The portrait-head effigy pots are noted for the realistic manner in which the human features and emotion are depicted. Apart from the facial features on no two portrait head vessels are alike. This may be because there were true portraits of real people.

    It is likely that these people had actually posed for their portraits. The eyes were inlaid with semi precious stones and stucco (Donnan, 1992). In time, these embellishments have been mostly lost. The men in these portrait vases have hair cut neatly to neck length.

    It can be seen that the general form of the vessels were mold made. But the artwork that included the surface embellishment was hand made (Donnan, 1992).d. Significance:The main significance of these vessels lies in the fact that they are modeled with great precision and skill and hence have perfect shapes and depict perfect scenes.

    These vessels were placed in burials of the Moche ruling class. They are valued greatly in the market due to their aesthetic and cultural appeal. Their value is further enhanced due to their authentic portrayal of customs and rituals of ancient Moche. It has been found that pieces of Moche stirrup spout vessels found in funeral sites are like pieces of a jig saw.

    They need to be seen all together in order to procure valuable information.e. Utility:Moche stirrup spout vessels are often found in elite Moche burials and the signs of use and tear indicate that these vessels were used by the Moche during life. Bits and pieces of these vessels have been found amidst domestic garbage.

    Some of these vessels have been found in ceremonial places and presumably they have been discarded there after being broken while being used. Though the vessels have a strange shape, they probably were used to carry liquids such as chica- a fermented maize drink. The elaborate work on these vessels was to indicate status of elites in their burial offerings. Moreover, elites also tried to spread a particular message through these vessels.

    Some of the standardized imagery of the mold made wares displayed signs of aggression such as that of a cat baring its teeth and grimacing. The pottery seemed to symbolize Moche identity.f. Technology: Sometimes Moche made innovative technological use of press molds in order to mass produce their ceramic wares.

    Wet clay was pressed into ceramic molds and once the clay dried it was removed from the inside of the mold. The method deviated from the traditional techniques of building the pots by modeling or coiling the clay. Using this method, more number of pots could be made in less time (Donnan, 1999).Discussion of Moche Art in Stirrup Spout Vessels:a.

    The five phases of artistic production: In 1948, Rafael Larco Hoyle, a Peruvian amateur archaeologist divided Moche artistic production into five time-based phases depending on the intricacy of the painting on them. Fineline painted ware began with relative simplicity in phases I and II, and gradually gained complexity and artistic sophistication. Throughout the Moche period, the technique for decorating these vessels was similar. Once the pot was made, it was roughed in by incising on a hard surface to define the layout and relationship of elements to one another before painting.

    The painting was then done with an iron-rich red slip over white, although white over red examples are known to exist. Rare trichrome examples, incorporating an orange slip commenced in phase III. Polychrome examples using four or more colors are known from phase V. Once the design was completed, the vessel would be burnished with a smooth stone or polished bone, and then fired in a pit that allowed oxygen to circulate around the vessel, bringing out the rich red tone of the slip.

    b. Fineline Paintings: Stirrup vessels were the earliest examples of fineline painting (Phase 1 and II). The vessels from the first two phases had a medallion layout with a single element, which may be repeated with slight variations around the vessel’s surface. Moreover, the lines used in these early phases tend to be heavier than later examples and there are large areas of color fill.

    A figure is drawn from different angles. While the limbs are shown in profile, torso and eye are given a frontal view. The head is typically rendered in profile except in certain specific figures. Animals tend to be rendered from their most easily recognizable perspective.

    Quadrupeds and fish are rendered in profile. Other animals such as octopuses, crabs, and spiders tend to be viewed from the top. Birds are rendered from top/bottom or profile, depending on type or perhaps context. While later fineline painting became more complex, these conventions tended to be respected-although with some innovation and variation-throughout the Moche period.

    During phase III, the scenes depicted on the stirrup vessels became more complex. Figures are now placed one behind another and in some cases, the torso is shown to be turned. Background elements such as architecture, desert plants and sea creatures are also included. Paintings of the third phase sometimes show narrative sequences and the “Warrior Narrative” is the most popular among them (Miller, 2000).

     In the warrior narrative, warriors are shown preparing for battle, fighting enemies, defeating them, capturing prisoners, making them bleed from the face and parading them (Miller, 2000). A mythological figure dubbed Wrinkle Face emerged in phase III and is sometimes depicted along with a companion known as Iguana. He is seen in combat with supernatural creatures, fishing, hunting, and engaged in a variety of other activities. The Wrinkle Face theme also continues and expands though phases IV and V(Miller, 2000).

    In phases IV and V there is this sequence is combined into a single narrative which concludes with the ritual sacrifice of the prisoners. In Phase IV fineline painting is seen in its best evolved form. . There is the development of element layering to create depth.

    The compositions are more complex and include multiple registers and even spirals. The spout of the vessel is often decorated with geometric patterns. Major changes are apparent in phase V, and there is a strong influence from the Huari culture to the south (Miller, 2000). Themes in fineline depictions increasingly focus on the supernatural and on the sea.

    Death and burial themes are also frequent (Miller, 2000).c. The Burial theme: The burial theme depicted on Moche pottery includes four scenes, including the burial scene, the assembly scene, and the sacrifice scene, the conch shell transfer. It is well represented on the paintings of six Moche stirrup spout vessels.

    In the burial activity two figures, Iguana and Wrinkle are shown using ropes to lower a long horizontal casket into a grave shaft (Donnan and McClelland, 1979). The casket has a face drawn on one end. A variety of grave goods surrounds the casket and extends above, between the ropes. The burial theme also shows a llama with a rope around its neck is also being held by Wrinkle.

    These llamas may have been used for transportation purposes or they may be sacrificial animals. There are dogs accompanying the two human figures. In the assembly scene, a grouping of human, animal, and anthropomorphized figures are portrayed in ceremonial contexts, Conch shells are included among the grave goods. The sacrifice activity is located in the area above the conch-shell transfer activity (Donnan and McClelland, 1979).

    Conclusion:Lost civilizations are best studied using the art forms of the period obtained through excavation. As such, Moche Stirrup Spout vessels are available to mankind for study and appreciation. But due to the fact that there are no written records of the Moche civilization, it has proven difficult to analyze and decipher the paintings on these artistic vessels. However, one can get a glimpse of the fascinating and historically significant Moche through the gods, warriors, and stories depicted in the remarkable sculptures and paintings of these Moche Stirrup Spout vessels.

    ;Pictures:(Figure 1 Simple Stirrup vase with stirrup spout formed through coiling. SFU, 2006).;(Figure 2: Moche monkey pot, stirrup-spout vessel showing ear plugs, pouch around neck for lime to use with coca; reproduction from Larco Museum, Lima, Peru. Pyburn, 2006)(Figure 3: Fine line painted Moche stirrup spout vessel, from the Wari Valley, North Coastal Peru, GCC Ceramics, 2006);;(Figure 4: Stirrup-spout bottle with snake, 2nd–3rd century Peru; Moche.

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006);;(Figure 5: Moche portrait vessel recovered from Huaca Cao Viejo in 1998. MFAP, 2000);(Figure 6: Moche stirrup spout vessel molded in the form of a snail. MFAP, 2000)Figures 7, 8, 9, 10, 11(Figure 7: Stirrup vessel: complex Warrior Narrative scene. Moche III, Private collection.

    Miller, 2000)(Figure 8: Stirrup vessel: supernatural avian and marine creatures with standards. Miller, 2000)(Figure 9: Trichrome stirrup vessel: Wrinkle Face fishing. Moche III Banco Central de la Reserva, Lima, Miller, 2000)(Figures 10 and 11:  Stirrup vessel: the Spider Decapitator. Moche I-II, Banco Central de la Reserva, Lima, Miller, 2000);The Larco Museum in Lima has a whole room devoted to stirrup-spout vessels in the shape of heads, true portraits of particular people.

    Some examples of such vessels are:(Figure 12: Red and white stirrup spout vessel depicting kneeling warrior. UPM, 2006)(Figure 13: Moche IV stirrup spout blackware vessel. Warrior has crescent shaped ornament, two war club heads, large ear spools, a bracelet and the backflap on the backside. UPM, 2006);Bibliography:Journal sources:Donnan, B.

    Christopher and McClelland, Donna (1979). The Burial Theme in Moche Iconography. Copyright © 1979 by Dumbarton Oaks. Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.

    C. Library of Congress catalog number 79–63727

    pdfMiller, Sebastian (2000). Fineline Painting of the Moche. Tribal Arts. VI: 3/2000. sources:Beiner, F.

    Stephen (2002). Artifacts from ancient Peruvian cultures are unique in their beauty and collectability. Catalogue: Griffin Gallery of Art. Boca Ruton.


    htmlBerrin, Kathleen, Ed. The Spirit of Ancient Peru: Treasures from the Museo Arqueologica. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, 1997Donnan, B. Christoper (1992).

    Ceramics of Ancient Peru. Fowler Museum of Cultural History, UCLA, Los Angeles, CADonnan, Christopher B. ; McCleland, Donna. Moche Fineline Painting: Its Evolution and its Artist.

    Los Angeles, UCLA, Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1999Keatinge, Richard W., ed. Peruvian Prehistory: an Overview of Pre-Inca and Inca Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

    Internet Sources:MFAP (2000). Moche Pottery. http://moche.nau.

    edu/pottery.htmGCC Ceramics (2006). Art 198 – History of the World of Ceramics. http://seco., Anne (2006). Early intermediate regional diversification: Moche, Nasca, San Agustin Marajo Island; Iconography; 200 BC- AD 6000. Metropolitan Museum of Art (2006).

    The Timeline of Art History.

    60.9.htmThe Art Institute of Chicago (2006). Moche Culture. (2006).

    Vessels. Stirrup Vase. http://www.sfu.

    ca/archaeology/museum/laarch/ceramics/vessel7.htmUPM (University of Pennsylvania) (2006). The Return of a Stolen Cultural Treasure to Peru.;;;

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