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Inka terraced vessel

Inka terraced vessel
AD 1425–1532
Lima, Peru
Clay, paint
31 x 18 x 26 cm
Purchased from Alan Lapiner

This beautiful Inka vessel, produced in the Provincial style along the south-central coast of Peru, bears Imperial Cusco influences. At first glance, the form appears to be a mountain effigy or a model of the great temple at Pachacamac, a settlement with a 1,500-year history, last occupied by the Inkas. Under the Inka, the temple was dedicated to the sun, also known as Inti, and housed the rimac (spirit who talks), or oracle. The vessel was made between AD 1470 and 1532 and formed part of an offering to this sacred site.

The three lower steps of the vessel’s form represent cocha, or basins; the fourth is a platform; and the fifth comprises a cylindrical neck and expanded rim. The cocha—finely crafted, with slightly curved lower walls—resemble catchments in the arid mountains of the coast where water appears only during the rainy season. Similar cocha are found in the surrounding archaeological remains.

The vessel’s front is decorated with small circles centered on dots, symbols for water. The lower part of the design displays an abstraction of agricultural terraces. The sides of the vessel are a metaphor for the arms and hands that sustain the cocha. Most likely created for ritual purposes, the vessel is painted according to the Andean cosmological tradition of messa, contrasting a light and a dark color. The top right side is white, which symbolizes snow and the male (paña), while the left side is dark, symbolizing Pachamama, or Mother Earth, and the female (lloque). The colors in the cocha alternate black-white-black on the paña side and white-black-white on the lloque side.

—Ramiro Matos (Quechua), National Museum of the American Indian

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