Feline Incense Vessel, Ceramic, Tiwanaku

Feline Incense Vessel

6th–9th century
Bolivia or Peru
H. 10 1/8 x W. 8 1/4 in. (25.7 x 21 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1969
Accession Number:
Not on view
The ceramic vessels of highland Tiwanaku are sturdy and clean lined, with a no-nonsense approach to shape that sets them apart from the sculptural ceramic traditions of the coastal regions to the north. Surface color too is restrained, with a pre-dominance of earth tones in a limited range of hue. This flaring-side vessel is a typical, but distinctive, Tiwanaku type. It has a large feline head on one side and a stumpy, erect tail on the other. The head is surrounded by a large flange on which remnants of a design appear. Winged profile felines are on each side of the vessel. These big-footed cats abundantly fill the space allotted to them. Their eyes are round and divided in half with one half white and the other black, a stylization that was widely used on feline images.

Vessels such as these usually represent either large cats or llamas. A number are modeled on the shape of the animal itself, with the animal's body forming the vessel container. The insides of both modeled and abstract vessels are often found blackened and sooty. This has lead to the conclusion that they were censers in Precolumbian times. When in use, smoke would have come from the open mouth of the feline head of this example, which does have a soot-blackened interior.
[Pinata Party, New York, until 1963]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1963–1969; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1969–1978

Museum of Primitive Art. Masterpieces in the Museum of Primtive Art: Africa, Oceania, North America, Mexico, Central to South America, Peru. Handbook series. New York, NY: Museum of Primitive Art, 1965, no, 117.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 505.

Newton, Douglas, Julie Jones, and Kate Ezra. The Pacific Islands, Africa, and the Americas/The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987, no. 117, p. 157.