COLLECTION D'UN GRAND AMATEUR D'OUTRE-ATLANTIQUE
Post Lot Text
EARLY CHIMU SILVER RECUMBENT FIGURE
NORTH COAST. A.D. 1100-1200
The vessel in the shape of an outstretched male figure, perhaps part of a multi-figured, funerary silver assemblage, legs extended fully at the back, arms bent at the elbows and crossed one over the other, the head, held upright, wearing a loincloth, embossed on the underside with a dotted pattern, head held upright, crowned with a wide flaring turban of gold alloy attached with a gilt chin strap, beveled and open at the top, his physiognomy treated in an early Chimu style with large staring eyes and small pursed mouth.
The most likely explanation for the curious posture of this silver and gold alloy figural vessel is that with turbaned head held high, arms crossed, and legs outstretched, he is swimming or floating. If so, that may relate him to the divers for the highly prized Spondylus princeps (fig. 1), or spiny oyster, shells depicted on Lambayeque ceramics. With his gold headdress, held in place by a golden chin strap, he would hardly have been an ordinary shell diver. He might instead be a shaman-chief, directing and guarding the skilled and courageous divers for the sacred shell while himself floating above them on the surface. The blood-colored Spondylus typically occurs at depths of fifteen to fifty meters, requiring both endurance and courage in a watery underworld inhabited both by physical dangers and the mythological monsters so graphically depicted in the fine-line paintings on the ceramics of the earlier Moche civilization. Divers descended in groups, with a supervisor or guardian in attendance. A small Chimu silver bowl in the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera in Lima, Peru, features this vital collaboration with incised trios of Spondylus divers attached by cords to a central figure (Berrin 1997, Fig. 158). Our swimmer might originally have been part of such a group scene, attached to the divers by a thin silver wire, now lost. By some estimates, spiny oysters harvested off the Pacific coast before the sixteenth century numbered in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Along with the perils of the Spondylus harvest, and the precious shell's periodic disappearance when the coastal waters off northern Peru and Ecuador become too frigid during El Nino years, it is impossible to exaggerate the role of Spondylus in Andean religious ritual, shamanism, symbolism, ornament, and trade.
None of this is as immediately apparent is its probable function as a container for some ceremonial liquid: the precious water that made life possible in arid northern Peru; chicha, the beer-like ceremonial beverage made from fermented maize, or even a shamanic intoxicant like liquified tobacco or an extract of the mescaline-rich San Pedro cactus, Trichocereus pachanoi.
Peter T. Furst, Ph.D.
In ancient Peru silver and gold were not only symbols of power and prestige, but they were also of symbolic and religious significance.Considered to be of equal value, they were the use of the elite class,and under the Inca the exclusive property of the supreme ruler. Both are associated with celestial deities-gold with the heat of the sun, regarded as a god, and silver with the coolness of the moon, a goddess associated with life-giving waters. Hence the Inca invocation "The sun rains gold, the moon rains silver".