North coast, Peru
Vessel Representing a Royal Messenger
100 B.C./A.D. 500
Ceramic and pigment
27 x 19.7 cm (10 5/8 x 7 3/4 in.)
Kate S. Buckingham Endowment, 1955.2291
The Moche people of ancient Peru are well known for the lively scenes they painted on ceramic objects, especially the uniquely shaped stirrup-spout pots. Elaborate designs depicting legends, stories, and ritual ceremonies are usually found on the vessels’ surfaces. They show narratives such as burials, sacrifices, healing rites, the presentation of goblets between high-ranking individuals, and scenes of deer hunts and warfare.
The design on this example includes figures of royal messengers, perhaps bringing news of war. Above the pot sits a sculpted version of one of the runners, wearing a headdress with a disk bearing the likeness of a jaguar. The meaning of these figures’ actions and the symbolic nature of their costumes and elaborate headdresses continues to be studied today.