A large vessel, showing a frog / toad perched on top of a bulbous body, with a funnel-shaped spout. The frog is realistically made, with strong, muscular paws as if ready to jump, a wide mouth, and large, almond-shaped eyes. The body is decorated in a highly stylized way, with polka dots which represent the markings of the animal; similar markings can be found on other depictions of frogs (for a similarly decorated stirrup spout vessel in the shape of a toad see Berrin, p. 110, no. 43), but also on a vessel depicting a jaguar (Berrin, no. 33); both animals are more often combined in Moche depictions of fantastic creatures (see below).
Frogs occur frequently in the iconography of Moche art. As water and land animals that mutate from eggs to tadpoles to frogs, they were associated with ideas of transformation and growth (Berrin, p. 197, no. 145, gold necklace with frogs). The association with water, more specifically with the coming of rain, connected the animal also with vegetation and fertility. On the other hand, the venom from varieties that were known to be toxic was used for blowgun dart poison by many South American cultures; magical rituals and myths involving these venoms also existed. In addition to this it was known that some species were not merely poisonous but hallucinogenic (Berrin, p. 110).
In their realistic representations the Moche depicted more than one frog species (see McClelland after Duellman and Trueb), especially but not exclusively the poisonous Bufo Marinus. However, they also represented an animal that McClelland called the “botanical frog”, a composite of different animals and plants; for this botanical frog see also Turner, p. 58-59. Some of its features are feline, and it usually has a broad-banded mouth, sometimes with teeth. This frog has features of Leptodactylus Pentadactylus, an aggressive frog with a toxic nature that lives in the eastern Andean forest, but not on the north coast of Peru; still, it has been noted in many departments of Peru. McClelland remarks that the botanical frog seems clearly related to the Moche concept of agriculture, but that there are several interconnecting characteristics between the animals and the plants that comprise the botanical frog, like the toxic nature of frog and plant, their forms when underground, and the markings and behavior of both frog and feline. All of these suggest more than a simple explanation of the frog as a fertility symbol.
The ancient authenticity of the vessel was confirmed by a thermoluminescence test. A copy of the TL test report accompanies the object.
For the poisonous and hallucinogen-excreting animal see Peter T. Furst, "Symbolism and Psychopharmacology: the Toad as Earth Mother in Indian America" in K.J. Litrak - T.N. Castillo (eds.), Religión en Mesoamerica, XII Mesa Redonda, Sociedad Méxicana de Antropología (Mexico, 1972), p. 37-46; Peter T. Furst, "Hallucinogens in Precolumbian Art" in Mary Elizabeth King - Idris R. Traylor Jr. (eds.), Art and Environment in Native America (Texas, Texas Tech University, The Museum, Special Publications no. 7, 1974), p. 55-101; Wade Davis - Andrew T. Weil, "Identity of a New World Psychoactive Toad", Ancient Mesoamerica, volume 3 (1992), p. 51-59; Armand J. Labbé, Shamans, Gods, and Mythic Beasts. Colombian Gold and Ceramics in Antiquity (New York and Seattle, American Federation of the Arts and University of Washington Press, 1998), p. 175; W.E. Duellman, "Leptodactylid Frogs of the Genus Phrynopus in Northern Peru with Descriptions of Three New Species", Herpetologica volume 56, no. 3 (September 2000), p. 273-285; Rebecca Stone-Miller, Seeing with New Eyes. Highlights of the Michael C. Carlos Museum Collection of Art of the Ancient Americas (Michael C. Carlos Museum / University of Washington Press, 2002), p. 118-120, 124-125, 232, 235; Rebecca Stone-Miller, "Human-Animal Imagery, Shamanic Visions, and Ancient American Aesthetics", RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, no. 45 (Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Spring, 2004), p. 47-68.
For other representations of frogs on Moche vessels see for example Kirsten Marie Mottl, Re-examined and Re-defined: an Exploration and Comparative Analysis of Moche Ceramic Vessels in the Milwaukee Public Museum Collections (University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, Theses and Dissertations, Paper 822, 2015), p. 95, 179-180 with fig. 68, 248, 296, 336, 355, 375.
For frogs in Moche art in general, and for the Botanical Frog see Donna McClelland, “The Moche Botanical Frog”, Arqueología Iberoamericana 10 (2011), p. 30–42; Andrew David Turner, Sex, Myth, and Metaphor in Moche Pottery (Thesis University of California Riverside, 2013), p. 58-59; William E. Duellman - Linda Trueb, Biology of Amphibians (Baltimore and London, John Hopkins University Press, 1986, 1994). See also Kathleen Berrin (ed.), The Spirit of Ancient Peru. Treasures from the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera (New York and London, Thames and Hudson, 1997), p. 110, 197.
Moche IV, ca. 450-600 C.E.
Height 24 cm
Dutch private collection, acquired in 2004; before that in a Canadian private collection since circa 1980; before that Tallarico collection.
In excellent condition; a few miniscule chips; some surface wear and scratches; an inventory number written on the bottom. Two minuscule holes caused by taking a sample for the TL test.