Stirrup-spout vessel

900–200 BCE
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General Description

The earliest central Andean art style with wide-spread distribution and influence is called Chavín, after the ceremonial center at the site of Chavín de Huántar in the northern highlands. The relief carving and monumental stone sculpture of its imposing temples express a fully developed religious iconography that features felines, birds of prey, and serpents. The ceramics most closely associated with the Chavín style are monochromatic sculptural vessels with flat bottoms and stirrup-shaped spouts, a form that persisted in north coast ceramic traditions until the Spanish conquest. Contrasting surface textures are also quintessentially Chavín.

On this characteristic example, the spout and circular elements with conical bosses are highly burnished, and the stirrup and vessel chamber are stippled with short strokes, creating a rough and earthy texture. The combination of heavy punctuation and a flared spout are similar to vessels from the Chongoyape vicinity in the Lambayeque valley, although the punctuation in this example is much deeper than others of this type. The body is harmoniously shaped, and the burnished bosses are precisely placed to divide the vessel into quarters with one boss at the center. In Andean cosmology, the four quarters and center represent an important organizing principle. This vessel could abstractly and elegantly express a fundamental cosmological concept.

Adapted from

  • Carol Robbins, "Stirrup-spout vessel (1976.W.56)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Suzanne Kotz (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1997), 168.

  • Label text, A. H. Meadows Galleries.

  • DMA unpublished material.

Fun Facts

  • In his 1976 report, Junius B. Bird, curator emeritus of South American archaeology at the American Museum of Natural History, notes: "Massive spout on flattened gourd body. Roughened surface with 6 burnished projections. Burnished areas are retouched. Should be x-rayed. Such pieces exemplify the Chavin potter's use of contrasting surfaces."