ANTHROPOMORPHICAL PICHET Aztec culture, central Mexico
Post-Classical, 1325-1521 AD Brown-red
H. 18.5 cm
Aztec effigy pitcher, brown-redware ceramic,
Mexico City, H. 7 1/4 in
Provenance: Private American
Acquired by the present owner in 2001
Fine Arts of Ancient Lands, New York
This stunning red clay ceramic pitcher, dated to the end of the reign of Montezuma II (1502-1520), depicts a male figure in a seated position. It is a remarkable object for the multiple decorative elements that cover practically all the available space. These finely modelled patterns were applied to the entire ceramic by pressure or by adding slip.
The character's body forms the pitcher. The triangular face with protruding cheekbones looks out into the distance. The forehead is encircled by a band made of circles or "chalchihuitl", precious jade pearls. The deformed ears reveal the use of wearing large circular or tubular ornaments. He is sitting in a relaxed position with his right leg resting on the left side of the floor. Both hands are placed on the thigh or knee. The arms are adorned with feather and paper ornaments and a large flower covers the right hand.
The man's torso is entirely occupied by a large circular medallion edged with pearls. In the centre, a feathered figure with a feathered headdress, in a "floating" position, wears a skinned skin. The hands can be distinguished at the wrists from the hanging skin and the face, with open mouth and closed eyes, is also characteristic of skin that has been scratched. To the right and left of the medallion are turtles with feathered headdresses. This turtle pattern also appears four times around the neck of the pitcher and a fifth time at the upper end of the handle. The carapace, hind legs, head and mouth with the horny beak are easily recognizable. At the back of the pitcher, on each side, two identical representations show an anthropomorphic character in a dynamic position, arms raised, legs in motion, head backwards. He wears a large feathered headdress, a fringe on his forehead, a nose ornament, a labret and tears stream from his eyes. In each hand he carries feathered weapons. Its torso is covered by a large container with fins and long feathers, but there is a rope attached to its waist.
This rich and complex iconography is related to Xipe Totec, "Our Lord the Flayed One", a deity in the Aztec pantheon related to war, corn and agriculture. During the Tlacaxipehualitztli festival, a rite was performed in honour of Xipe Totec in which an enemy warrior armed with fake weapons and tied by a rope to a round stone was made to confront truly armed warriors. Defeated and put to death the prisoner was flayed and a priest put on his skin. The scenes in this vase may have something to do with this ritual. The figures at the back of the container depict crying warriors equipped with fake feathered weapons and a rope around their belt. While the character in the central medallion would be the flayed victim whose dovetail ear ornaments are typical of Xipe Totec.
The richness of the decoration and the quality of realization of this ceramic make it an extraordinary object. It is certainly a ceremonial vessel whose use was reserved for rituals or libations perhaps in honour of Xipe Totec.
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