Jaguar Jar 600-700CE
Jaguar Jar, 600–700 CE
Gift of Ann and Henry Brunnier. In the Permanent Collection of the Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
The Ancient Americas are known for their complex civilizations and brilliant artifacts. The jaguar jar comes from the Moche civilization in Peru that extended from 1–700 CE in the Chicama and Trujillo Valleys. The Moche culture was known for its adobe-brick architecture; the largest of which are the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon in the Moche River Valley. The hierarchical nature of the society meant that burying the dead with ceramic and mineral offerings was common. The gifted Moche artisans created colorful ceramic vessels like this example to be used as burial offerings.
The Moche were also known to sculpt the bodies of these vessels with mythological or naturalistic figures. Some historians even liken this practice to that of the ancient Romans and Greeks. The Moche civilization was as decadent and flourishing as those more widely known ancient civilizations once were. The Moche’s complex network of irrigation systems allowed for the ability to cultivate a diversity of crops still unsurpassed in modern society.
Despite all of their architectural and agricultural achievements the distinctive pottery which set apart their ancient Andean society. Moche artists crafted their pottery without wheels. Earlier in history, the pots were sculpted by hand, but in the latter half of this civilization many vessels were created using molds.
Jaguars were a common feature and motif of the pottery and even played a role in their pantheon of gods. Jaguars can be found painted on vessels, molded in shapes seen here, and as the subject of stirrup vessels. Each of these vessels is individualized in order to model the true forms of the natural, human and supernatural world. The Moche people acquired their territory through conquest and their art often exhibited these warlike tendencies, which can be seen in the snarling teeth of this large cat.