Skip to Content
Showing 3 of 4

Skull Cup

Aztec, Late Postclassic
1200-1520 CE
7.62 cm x 5.4 cm x 7.94 cm (3 in. x 2 1/8 in. x 3 1/8 in.)

Not on view


Additional Images
Click an image to view a larger version

A sculpted skull adorning the side of a cup, PC.B.080 represents a type of vessel that is sometimes referred to as a “pulque cup,” pulque being a beer made from agave sap. A similar example was found as part of Offering 20 at the Templo Mayor. PC.B.080 may have had more elaborate accoutrements at one time, but the piece was broken and reworked, apparently in antiquity. The cup has two design fields: a lower one forming a slightly narrower cylinder than the upper field, on which the skull forms a protuberance. The eye holes, surrounded by a raised rim, are conical and detailed by circular pupils. Round cavities define the sides of the mouth, which is formed by three parallel horizontal lines, simple grooves that express the death’s head grin. On the face’s temples appear incised marks, each in the shape of an elongated bean, possibly indicating that this is a representation of a mask. The ears are naturalistic in shape, with cylindrical depressions in the enlarged lobes.
The class of vessels to which this one belongs is extensive and varied. The Bliss Collection example is simple and small but conforms well to the known parameters of the examples of these vessels that have been found in context.

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. 24, cat. 114.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1947 Indigenous Art of the Americas: Collection of Robert Woods Bliss. National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian institution, Washington, D.C., p. 13, 77, cat. 45.

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. 244, cat. 64, pl. XLVIII.

Charlot, Jean 1958 The Indian beneath the Skin (Review of 1957 Catalogue). In Art news, New York. p. 42-43.

Solís Olguín, Felipe R. 2004 The Aztec Empire: Catalogue of the Exhibition. Guggenheim Museum Publications, New York.

Exhibition History
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, April 1947 to July 1949, November 1953 to July 1962.

"The Aztec Empire", Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, 10/14/2004 - 2/13/2005; Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain 3/15/ - 9/4/2005.

"Drink and Prosper", Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC, 4/1/2015 to 8/24/2015.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1944.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1944-1962.

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

Aztecs | Skulls