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A large spider crawls on this cup, its bulbous, striped thorax supported by four pairs of legs that end in sharp claws. The spider’s head, to the right, has feline features, slanted eyes, and a set of poisonous fangs at the front. Its backside is represented on the left by a smaller head similar to that at the front but ending in a sharp lobsterlike claw. Another spider with identical features is carved on the other side, in such a way that each follows or chases the other around the cup. Spiders are often represented on stone vessels from the Cupisnique culture, and it is likely that a supernatural being with arachnid attributes played an important role in Cupisnique religious thought. Based on iconographic evidence and ethnographic analogy, spiders were probably associated with rainfall, fertility, and perhaps divination. Their web-weaving abilities offer a metaphorical counterpart for weaving, one of the most important art forms in the Andes.
The bottom of the cup is decorated with a feline head, seen in profile. It has gnarling teeth and fangs that project over its upper and lower lips. Its eye is similar to the spiders’ eyes, with small projections at either end, a trait typical of the art of this period.
Like other steatite vessels in the Cupisnique style, this cup is carved in low relief, with an undecorated background that is slightly lower than the design to highlight the sculpted motifs. A plain horizontal band, thicker than the design, encircles the top of the vessel below the rim. The high quality of the carving suggests that it was made by parttime or full-time craft specialists.
Benson, Elizabeth P. 1963 Handbook of the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 62, cat. 346.
Bliss, Robert Woods 1957 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, New York. p. 271, cat. 297, pl. CXX, CXXI.
Bliss, Robert Woods 1959 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. 2nd ed. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, London. p. 279, cat. 297, pl. CXX, CXXI.
Boone, Elizabeth Hill (ED.) 1996 Andean Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks; No. 1. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C. vol. 1, p. 89-91, pl. 10.
Bühl, Gudrun (ED.) 2008 Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 280-1.
Kubler, George 1962 The Art and Architecture of Ancient America; the Mexican, Maya, and Andean Peoples. The Pelican History of Art, Z21. Penguin Books, Baltimore. p. 240.
Museum of Primitive Art 1962 Gods with Fangs: The Chavin Civilization of Peru. Exhibition, Feb. 21-May 6, 1962. Museum of Primitive Art, New York. cat. 46.
Salazar-Burger, Lucy and Richard Burger 1983 La Araña En La Iconografía Del Horizonte Temprano En La Costa Norte Del Perú. Beiträge zur allgemeinen und vergleichenden Archäologie 4:213-252. p. 216-219, 231-232, fig. 4, 5, 6.
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, February 1954 to September 1961.
"Art and Life in Old Peru", American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, 9/25 - 12/31/1961.
"Gods With Fangs", Museum of Primitive Art, New York, NY, 2/21 - 5/6/1962 (catalogue # 46).
Purchased from Walram von Schoeler, New York (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1949.
Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1949-1962.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.