Pre-Columbian, North Coast Peru Inca, ca. 1400 to 1533 CE. A skillfully carved black volcanic basalt vessel, the body of a broad cylindrical form with integral twin loop handles and two snakes depicted in relief on each side. The serpents slither in sinuous formations, one above the other, their heads facing in opposite directions. In the Pre-Columbian world, animals were highly symbolic beings. Serpents were metaphors for rain and blood, two life-giving fluids. At the same time, they were viewed as creatures that portend great danger. Their ability to shed their skin each year, and thus rejuvenate themselves, also made them symbolic of health and renewal. A striking vessel replete with strong technique, attractive form, and layers of symbolic meaning. Size: 15.25" W handlespan x 4.25" H (38.7 cm x 10.8 cm)
In their discussion of another Inca basalt vessel with snake motifs in the British Museum, Smarthistory scholars have suggested that it was probably kept in the Coricancha (Temple of the Sun) or nearby sacred buildings - most likely used to hold offerings or simply water as a means of seeing into the underworld via its reflective surface. The coiled - or in this case sinous - serpent bodies were most likely intended to resemble flowing water. (https://smarthistory.org/inka-an-introduction/) - The British Museum, "Inka stone vessels," in Smarthistory, March 1, 2017, accessed May 6, 2019, https://smarthistory.org/inka-an-introduction/.
Provenance: private southwestern Pennsylvania, USA collection
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Normal surface wear commensurate with age. Old chips to rim, base, and high-pointed areas. Otherwise intact. Serpent forms are vivid. Label indicating "basalt" on bottom.