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Pyroengraved Gourd

Chavín and Cupisnique influenced, Early Horizon
800 BCE - 700 BCE
8.3 cm x 15.9 cm (3 1/4 in. x 6 1/4 in.)

Not on view


This pyroengraved gourd from the Ica region exemplifies the way in which the Cupisnique and Chavín traditions both influenced the art of the south coast of Peru during the Early Horizon. Considering its size and form it may have been used as a drinking vessel.

To produce it, the top neck of the fruit of a bottle gourd was cut away and discarded, and the remnant edge was then abraded to form a rim beveled on the interior. The gourd was decorated by a combination of scraping, burning, and incising. Most of the iconographic detail was produced by narrow incisions made in the surface of the gourd with a sharp instrument in a manner not unlike the tracing of details in golden objects. By scraping selected zones, a contrast was created between the matte reflection of the abraded zone and the naturally reflective surface of the unmodified one. By burning some scrapped zones, a dark tone was achieved that differed markedly from the natural brown surface color of the bottle gourd; these blackened areas were used to make the imagery more vivid and easier to understand. In several panels, the background was scorched to a dark tone to serve as a foil for the lighter and slightly higher (and more lustrous) iconography carved in the foreground. In other portions of the gourd, the artisan darkened specific features within a thematic element (such as the pupil of an eye).

The decoration enveloping the exterior depicts a looped, net bag filled with felines and trophy heads. The bag is represented by an interlocking angular guilloche, or twined fret pattern. A continuous angular fret pattern was carved on the scraped but unburnt rim of the gourd. It may represent and S-twisted cord at the edge of the top of the looped bag. The interstices of the bag are irregular pentagons and hexagons arrayed in two horizontal registers. In the upper register, one anthropomorphic head with crossed fangs and four profile felines can be seen through the openings. In the interstices of the bottom register, there are three anthropomorphic heads and two felines in profile. The bottom of the bag was represented by a cross with a circular center.

Benson, Elizabeth P. 1969 Supplement to the Handbook of the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., cat. 457.

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. 81-4, pl. 8.

Burger, Richard L. 1992 Chavin and the Origins of Andean Civilization. Thames and Hudson, London. p. 196, fig. 206.

Rowe, John Howland 1962 Chavin Art: An Inquiry into Its Form and Meaning. Museum of Primitive Art, New York. fig. 55, 552.

Acquisition History
Purchased from John Wise, New York (dealer), by Michael Coe, 1961.

Gift to Dumbarton Oaks by Michael D. Coe, 1967.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.