Envisioning Nasca: Sculptural Polychrome Ceramics, c. 1 - 450 CE Open Access

Tierney, Meghan (2016)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/c247ds19f?locale=en


The Nasca culture thrived during the Early Intermediate Period on the south coast of modern-day Peru (c. 1 - 750 CE). At the foothills of the Andes, Nasca artists created superlative works of art, not only the famous Nasca Lines (geoglyphs) and three-dimensionally embroideries, but also the most colorful ceramic tradition, as examined here. Early Nasca ceramic imagery is more decipherable and so provides a productive starting point for interpretive approaches, in contrast to the Late Nasca style in which images appear with appended emanations and "signifiers" that make the images increasingly difficult to read. In the past, studies of Nasca iconography tend to focus on the subject matter that relates to the terrestrial world, concluding that the Nasca were intent on documenting nature. Images for which no natural counterpart could be easily identified were then relegated to the realm of the supernatural, leading to sacred-secular dichotomy in the Nasca scholarship. By contrast, this art-historical study analyzes a corpus of 243 polychrome sculptural vessels in the forms of head jars and full-body effigy vessels depicting bodies on a continuum of transformation between human and animal, implying shamanic visionary experience was considered central. Shamanic themes of cephalocentrism and transformations between life and death also emerge. Further, the imagery and forms of these disembodied and embodied beings point up the essential shamanic capacity to sustain dual consciousness. Visual and ethnographic analysis suggests the vessels served less as representations or illustrations, but rather constituted beings in and of themselves.

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