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Cleveland Museum of Art Acquires Renowned Pre-Columbian Artworks at Auction
Important Wari Figural Scene of a Dignitary, South Coast Region, Middle Horizon, CA. A.D. 600-1000. Height 11 in (28cm).
CLEVELAND, OH.- The Cleveland Museum of Art today acquired two noteworthy objects of the ancient Andean Wari people at auction. The unique and celebrated Bag with Human Head is a painted animal hide pouch in superb condition exhibiting a remarkably lifelike head that may represent a young warrior; and Vessel with Litter Group is a ceramic container depicting an unusually elaborate sculptured vignette: a dignitary who sits in a litter carried on the shoulders of four porters.

Both objects are rare and will be showcased in a 2012-13 traveling exhibition on the art of the Wari organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art. Wari: Realm of the Condor is the first North American special exhibition devoted to the arts of the Wari, who may have forged the first empire of the ancient Andes. The museum’s Wari collection consists of a combination of important objects and textiles and represents artwork of the Central Andes (today, mainly Peru), a major Amerindian cultural region that was home to the Inka empire.

“The acquisition of these two Wari objects demonstrates the museum’s commitment to pursue works of art that will strengthen our ancient American collections, and to use the exhibitions we originate as opportunities to develop our holdings in specific areas,” stated C. Griffith Mann, Ph.D., the museum’s deputy director and chief curator. “Works of art like this bag have a remarkable physical presence, and bring us face to face with a past that scholars are still working to understand.”

Bag with Human Head, Ancient Andean Wari people. Middle Horizon, 600-1000 A.D. Hide, pigment, human hair, coca leaf contents; bag height: 26 cm.

This renowned and singular bag is made from animal hide, an ancient Andean artistic medium that is now rare due to poor survival in an extreme climate. Beneath a long strap and narrow upper opening, the bag flares into a decorated panel to which a three-dimensional lifelike human face, made of hardened hide, is stitched. The youthful face is compelling, with its direct and candid gaze, parted lips and still-lustrous tresses of human hair that fall from beneath a cap. This may be the idealized visage of a young warrior: Wari ceramic images of warriors wear the same facial decoration, cap and tunics embellished with a grid and circle geometric design of the pouch’s lower panel. Bags are an important Andean accessory type and this bag’s condition is superb—the hide, probably from a llama or alpaca, is remarkably soft, flexible and strong, there are no replacements to the hair, and the pigment is vibrant. This bag once held coca leaves, which remain important today in Andean ritual and everyday life.

Vessel with Litter Group, Ancient Andean Wari people. Middle Horizon, 600-1000 A.D. Ceramic, slip; height: 28 cm.

Only a few Wari ceramic litter scenes are known, and this is the most elaborate among them. This ceramic vessel shows a seated lord whose striped tunic and facial decoration may refer to regional origin or social position. The porters wear the same facial decoration along with simple clothing that befits their status: loincloths and ring-like headbands. The figures sit atop a domed chamber that is encircled by a register of chevron designs. Litters were generally reserved for persons of distinguished status.

The Wari Culture
The Wari were a people of the Andes Mountains in Peru who, between about 600 and 1000 A.D., forged a cosmopolitan society that many today interpret as one of the western hemisphere’s first empires. Important forerunners of the more famous Inka of the 15th and 16th centuries, the Wari built a sprawling capital city that is one of the largest, most impressive archaeological sites in South America. Like other ancient Andean cultures, the Wari did not write and thus relied upon the arts as durable forms of communication, leaving behind a legacy of finely made textiles, ceramics, luxury ornaments of precious materials and sculptures of stone or wood.

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