Double-walled Beaker with Mythological Scene

Double-walled Beaker with Mythological Scene

800–1375 CE
Peru, north coast Lambayeque region
Hammered silver
General acquisition funds

Unknown artist (Sicán (Lambayeque) or Chimú, Peru), Water Channel Beaker, 800–1375 CE. Hammered silver, 6 x 5 ½ in. General acquisition funds, 1969.302

This object is currently on view
height: 6 in, 15.2400 cm; width: 5.5 in, 13.9700 cm; base width: 4.5 in, 11.4300 cm
Mayer Center, Art of the Ancient Americas
Art of the Ancient Americas

Unknown artist
Sicán (Lambayeque) or Chimú, Peru  
Double-walled Beaker with Mythological Scene 
About 800–1375 CE
Hammered silver 
General acquisition funds, 1969.302

In the ancient Andes, the drinking of maize beer played a prominent role in ceremonies. Sixteenth-century accounts of the Inka Empire tell how a toast between two parties could seal a contract, cement political alliances, or invoke the blessing of the goddess Pachamama when poured on the ground. Although commonly associated with the Inka empire, examples of drinking cups can be traced back to earlier cultures such as these tenth-century examples. 

This silver aquilla (cups made of precious metals) depicts a complex visual narrative carefully hammered into the vessels’ surface. The intricacy of the design and the purity of the metal suggests that this vessel was intended to accompany a royal personage in the afterlife as libation vessel. The rim includes a shallow projection or pouring spout.  Joanne Pillsbury and Carol Mackie’s recent material and iconographic analyses of the object suggests that this vessel as well as another in our collection (1969.303) were designed as a pair and manufactured in the same Lambayeque workshop. 

This object used to be called the Water Channel Beaker, so named because of the long thin conduit filled with marine imagery that encircles a large part of the vessel, prominently depicts a splayed leg female figure wearing a plumed headdress and framed by a lobed cartouche. A row of supernatural entities populates the upper register; architectural enclosures, hunting scenes, and a grove of trees appear around the center of the vessel. 

Further Reading: 

King, Heidi. Rain of the Moon: Silver in Ancient Peru. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 2000:34-35.

Mackey C, Pillsbury J. Cosmology and ritual on a Lambayeque beaker. Art and Archaeology. Essays in Honor of Frederick R. Mayer. 2013:115-141.

Pillsbury J, Mackey CJ. Lambayeque Silver Beakers: Further Considerations. Ñawpa Pacha. 2020 Jul 2;40(2):223-47.

Stratton-Pruitt, Suzanne L. Journeys to New Worlds: Spanish and Portuguese Colonial Art in the Roberta and Richard Huber Collection. Philadelphia Museum of Art. 2013: 204.

Young-Sánchez, Margaret. Pre-Columbian Art in the Denver Art Museum. Frederick and Jan Mayer Center for Pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial Art at the Denver At Museum. 2003: 74-75.

Exhibition History
  • “Rain of the Moon: Silver of Ancient Peru”—The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, November 3, 2000 - April 29, 2001