The Nazca people of Peru painted with incredible detail and many colors, resulting in beautiful pottery. The central figure on this small bowl is a fox deity, known in ancient Peruvian religion as the animal counterpart of the moon.
This polychrome bowl from southern Peru represents the Nazca culture, which had a long occupation on the desert coast, a region where rivers allowed agriculture to flourish.
Jewel-like, it is exceptionally small and well-painted. It portrays a fascinating mythological creature, who seems to represent the fox god, a central figure in Nazca religion. The fox god recalls later images of the moon, for the Incas said they could see a fox on the moon, much like we see a man on the moon. The frontal face of the fox god has a whiskered mask but his body has human traits like many animal gods in ancient Peru.
The fox god is flanked by two snake-like creatures, perhaps related to images of the Milky Way known from later times among the Quechua of southern Peru. White asterisks on the sides of the vessel probably represent stars.
The fox god’s tunic wraps around the underside of the bowl and its feet appear on the back of the vessel. The tunic is decorated with a stack of five wide-eyed faces that may represent powerful priests or attendants of the fox god.
The fox god holds another face in its right hand and two similar faces are worn as earrings. Unlike the tunic faces, these have their eyes closed in death. They are trophy heads that reference the cult of warfare, important throughout ancient Peru. This may have been ritualized warfare associated with beliefs about agricultural fertility, for trophy heads are sometimes interchangeable with plant images in Nazca art.
Curator, Latin American Art & Archaeology
Florida Museum of Natural History
Polychrome Ceramic Bowl
Made by Nazca people, Peru
Dates to ~AD 200–400