Today on Museum Quick Bites we’re working in a little face time with an ancient beer mug. Handcrafted from gold by the Chimú, this quirky cup (c1475-1525 CE) was used during rituals to drink fermented corn beer.
Gold Inca Beaker (c1475-1525 CE), Art Institute of Chicago, Photo by cjverb (2019)
Face beakers were created by hammering a sheet of gold or silver over a wooden mold. Mugs ranged in size from 2 to 16 inches in height. The faces were relatively uniform, but the headdress was where artisans showed off their skill.
Silver Chimú Face Beaker (c14th-16th century), Metropolitan Museum of Art
Zoom in and take note of the deep grooves in the almond-shaped eyes, the large beaky nose, and beneath it a tiny, meh mouth. The round ears sport holes. Did they once hold earrings? This face beaker is a nice splash of whimsy and no doubt made imbibing more enjoyable whether it was water, wine, or an ancient homebrew.
Gold Chimú Face Beaker (c1475-1525 CE), Art Institute of Chicago
The Chimú (c850-1470 CE) lived along the western coast of South America, from southern Ecuador to Lima, Peru. They were known for their brilliant metal work, whistling ceramics, flashy textiles, and agricultural engineering (i.e., irrigation systems and reservoirs).
Left: Chimú Ceramic Jar (1200-1450), Art Institute of Chicago
Center: Chimú Textile (c1250-1470), Art Institute of Chicago
Right: Chimú Ceremonial Knife (Tumi; c1100-1470), Art Institute of Chicago
Their capital city, Chan Chan is located near modern day Trujillo, Peru. Each Chimú ruler accumulated his own wealth, and built his own citadel. These labyrinthine, adobe structures contained audience halls, agricultural storage, housing for the royals, as well as the tomb of the ruler.
Left: Chan Chan City Walls, Photo by Marrovi; Right: Chan Chan Ancient Corridor, Photo by Bruno Girin. Photos courteys of Wikimedia Commons
In 1470 CE, the Chimú were conquered by the Inca. Their skilled artisans were sent to the Inca capital, Cuzco to craft their gorgeous wares. For a deeper dive into Chimú culture, click on this Chimú link, courtesy of the Khan Academy.
Top Left: Chan Chan, Photo by Riccardo Specchia, Wikimedia Commons
Lower Left: Chimú Breast Plate (c1100-1470), Art Institute of Chicago
Right: Chimú Circular Tweezers with Bird in Relief (1100-1400), Art Institute of Chicago
That wraps up our look at Chimú face beakers. I’ll be back next week with more Museum Quick Bites. In the meantime, be safe, be kind and take care 🙂
Cover photo by John Vasilopoulos, courtesy of Pixaby.
Ancient History Encyclopedia: Inca Civilization
Art Institute of Chicago: Inca Face Beaker
Metropolitan Museum of Art: Inca Face Beaker