Monday, April 14, 2008

Americas: Ceremonial Vessels

Pair of Figure Vessels, 12th–15th century
Mexico; Mixtec-Colima
Ceramic; H. 9 5/8 in. (24.4 cm)
Louis V. Bell Fund, 1993 (1993.16.1,2)

Around two thousand years ago in the west of Mexico people buried the dead with ceramic vessels in human and animal forms. The shape of these vessels is very complex and detailed. The patterns are mainly made up of lines and circles that are repeated. Later the style of these vessels became simpler but with many different colours and designs.

Vulture Vessel, 15th–early 16th century
Mexico; Aztec
Ceramic; H. 8 3/4 in. (22.2 cm)
Gift of Carol R. Meyer, 1981 (1981.297)

Ceramic vessels were often made in the forms of animals and related to myths. Precolumbian people believed in the supernatural world, and birds were messengers which could bring messages from the supernatural world of the sun, moon and planets etc. to the world of the living. This vessel is in the shape of a bird with simple decoration
and interesting texture.
The vessel is well-balanced, with the lines of the wings matching the angles of the legs - and the chest of the bird is in the middle of the two legs. The shape is simpler than the earlier figure vessels of the 12th to 15th century. The smooth, shiny dark red and black surface contrasts with the rough, matte texture of the head and feet.

Jar with Ritual Scene, 15th century
Mexico; Mixtec/Nayarit
Ceramic; H. 10 1/2 in. (26.7 cm)
Purchase, Mary R. Morgan Gift, 1992 (1992.3)

A few centuries before the Spanish conquest vases of this style were made. They were ceremonial vessels large surfaces. These were decorated with red all over, including the neck, and complex designs of people in different positions in other colours with black outlines. The graphic designs and patterns are repetitious and this helps create unity and have become a lot more intricate than the earlier more simply decorated vessels. The shape of the vessel is simple compared to the earlier vessels.


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