Aryballos with insects

A.D. 1400-1532



  • Inca


  • Peru

Object Info

Object: jar
Currently on view
Object ID: 1993.25


Earthenware with colored slips


Funds from the Burgess Trust, Walt Disney Imagineering, Alianza de las Artes Americanas, and Frederick and Jan Mayer


About the Artist

We don’t know who crafted this jug, but because of its shape, we know that the artist lived during the time of the Inca Empire. Vessels such as these were made in both large and small sizes. The artist formed the jug out of clay, smoothed the surface, and then decorated it with colored slips that were made up of a mixture of clay, water, and mineral pigments. Finally, the surface of the vessel was burnished or polished before firing.

Ceramics made by craftsmen in the workshops of Cuzco, the Inca capital, were highly prized as tangible evidence of imperial prestige. Local imitations were produced throughout the vast territory conquered by the Inca, which extended from Ecuador in the north to Chile in the south. Numerous ethnic groups and independent political entities were not only conquered but also effectively integrated into a centrally administered political and economic system.

What Inspired It

Vessels of this shape were used to hold liquids, especially chicha, a kind of beer made from corn. Very large vessels like this one would probably have been used on festive, ceremonial occasions. In the Inca Empire, commoners paid tribute to their local lords, religious authorities, and imperial administrators in the form of labor and military service. These authorities reciprocated with food, clothing, and other necessities. Most importantly, leaders held feasts for their tributaries, providing copious amounts of chicha. Serving this beer from an elaborately decorated jar such as this emphasized the wealth and generosity of the Inca state. Inca vessels of this shape are called aryballos because of their resemblance to similarly shaped ancient Greek ceramics.

Painted Decorations
Painted Decorations

The painted decorations on this vessel are particularly elaborate. Red and black flamingos form lines around the neck. The front of the vessel is divided into three zones: a vertical central panel with a diaper pattern (an all-over diamond-shaped pattern) that is flanked by two horizontally subdivided sections filled with insects and flowers.

The Lug
The Lug

The lug, found on the vessel’s shoulder at the base of the neck, is shaped like a jaguar head with a toothy mouth.

Ingenious Design
Ingenious Design

The handles and lug, along with a strap, were used to transport the jug. The strap was looped through one handle, up over the top of the lug, and then down through the other handle. The person carrying the jug used his back for support and tied the two free ends of the strap around his waist.

Holes at the Rim
Holes at the Rim

There are two small holes under the rim of the vessel that would have been used to secure a lid (now missing).

Pointed Base
Pointed Base

The pointed base was intended to be set in a depression in a dirt floor.

Teaching Resources

Quick Classroom Ideas

  • Jugs such as this one were used at Inca feasts. Have students create a shoebox diorama depicting a scene at an Inca feast and make sure they remember to include a jug or two!
  • The lug on this Inca jug is in the form of a jaguar head. Feline imagery played an important role in the South American pre-Columbian aesthetic. Have students find other examples of feline imagery, not only in Inca artwork, but that of the surrounding and proceeding cultures in the area.
  • There are a variety of patterns found on the surfaces of Inca pottery. Have students try their hand at creating their own unique designs. Ask for each student to bring in a plastic water bottle, a coffee can, a pop can, or similar object. Provide clay that can be molded but won’t dry (try Plastina clay). They can roll the clay out and cover the outer surface of their vessel. Then the students can go back and incise their own patterns in geometric sections just like this Inca jug.

Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.

The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.