Pre-Columbian, North Coast of Peru, Chavin, ca. 900 to 200 BCE. A stunning ceramic Janus-headed beaker representing the power of shamanic transformation. Below a wide, flaring, cylindrical neck, the body of the vessel bulges outward in two faces: one, a shaman head in transition to a jaguar, the other an anthropomorphic head transitioning to that of a serpent. Pale red cinnabar is in the deeply incised lines that create detail on each face. Two long ears jut out from the sides, forming handles. Size: 6.4" W x 7.1" H (16.3 cm x 18 cm)
Transformative figures that combine human and animal, especially feline, abound in ancient Peru, and seem to have been associated with shamanic, hallucinogenic rituals as well as the human desire to draw upon the fierce power of the animal. In ceramic artwork like this, that manifests itself in depictions of humans with specific animal-like components - a rounded snout or fierce fangs. Lanzon, the chief deity of Chavin, is carved on a towering stone stelae kept inside the labyrinthine Old Temple, one of the earliest built parts of the massive, flat-topped pyramid at the center of the Chavin capital, Chavin de Huantar. Lanzon is depicted with a jaguar head, a human body, and eyebrows and hair made of snakes. Modern viewers and archaeological accounts are rife with complaints that Lanzon in his current position in the temple is difficult to see, crammed into a space where one has to crane one's neck and push back against a wall to try to take in the full figure. It therefore seems likely that Chavin worshippers were drawn to contemplate and worship individual features of the god - the mouth, the hairline, the eye - rather than considering it as a whole.
Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection; ex-private H. J. Westermann collection, Germany
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Expertly repaired and restored from about ten pieces. Restoration is well done and almost impossible to see. Nice remaining pigment.