Chancay pitcher with face, Peru

, 13th-14th century


4 3/4 x 3 x 3 1/8 in. (12 x 7,5 x 8 cm)


About this object

This oblong pitcher, made of unglazed terra cotta, is distinctive of the ceramics in the Chancay culture (1000-1450 CE). It features a modeled face painted on its side and has a long, narrow neck.

The outline of a petite face, with almond-shaped eyes, a small nose, and a closed mouth can be seen. There are traces of red pigment over the face of the figure, likely used to portray the skin tone or make-up. The person represented seems to be wearing ornaments on their ears and around the neck. The top of the pitcher can be interpreted as either a hat or a headdress.

In pre-Columbian civilizations, ceramics were not only used for domestic purposes, but also had religious and ceremonial significance. In the absence of writing, terracotta served as a medium for religious iconography. It could also be used to contain fermented drinks, such as chica, during funeral rites.

The Chancay culture is known for producing very distinctive textiles, woodwork and ceramics. It is believed that the Chancay culture encompassed the coast and valleys of the central coast of the Andes (modern-day central Peru). It arose after the disappearance of the Wari or Huari Empire in 900 CE and came under the rule of the Inca Empire in the course of the 15th century, before being conquered by the Spanish in 1532.

Fabien Ferrer-Joly. Musée des Amériques Auch : collections. Auch [Gent: Agglomération du Grand Auch Coeur de Gascogne Snoeck Ducaju & Zoon, 2019.

Michel Graulich. L’art précolombien. Les Andes. Paris: Flammarion, 1992.

Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. « Chancay ». Central Andes. Accessed May 3, 2023.

Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. Accessed March 15, 2023.