The Testimony of Hands
Chimú Pottery

Five Whistling Vessels

Five whistling vessels
Photograph by B. Bernard

Double-chambered whistling vessels, created by the thousands, have always been favorite objects among collectors of ancient art. Each has a "blind spout" in the form of a human head, bird, or other animal. When liquid is tipped from the chamber with the open spout to the chamber with the blind spout, air is forced out of a hole behind the blind spout, producing a whistle. As the water level changes, so does the tone.

Catalogue No. 40.14.4

40.14.4, mold-made ceramic whistling vessel
Late Chimú (A.D. 1350–1470) or Chimú-Inka period (A.D. 1470–1532)
Gift of Dr. McCornack

The vessel shown above features a personified Spondylus shell, a female deity associated with the sea and the Moon. This image is a common one in Chimú pottery. The pot is 18 1/2 centimeters (7 1/4 inches) tall.

Catalogue No. 61.10.1

61.10.1, mold-made ceramic whistling vessel
Chimú-Inka period, Peru (A.D. 1470–1532)
Hurd Collection of Peruvian Pottery; gift of S. L. "Bud" Maisel

Because mold-made items dominated Chimú pottery production, it is possible to find instances of the same vessel shape in different collections. The vulture-headed bottle shown above has its twin in Spain, at the Museo de América de Madrid. The Maxwell Museum's example is 17 centimeters (6 3/4 inches) tall.

Catalogue No. 61.10.9

61.10.9, mold-made ceramic whistling vessel
Chimú-Inka period, Peru (A.D. 1470–1532)
Hurd Collection of Peruvian Pottery; gift of S. L. "Bud" Maisel

Some vessels, like the one shown above, display relief designs inspired by architectural relief decoration at Chan Chan, and by designs on Chimú textiles. This "whistler" is 14 centimeters (5 1/2 inches) tall. Its relief design, shown in greater detail below, appears to be based on fish.

Catalogue No. 61.10.9
Photograph by B. Bernard


Catalogue No. 68.59.113

68.59.113, mold-made ceramic whistling vessel
Chimú-Inka period, Peru (A.D. 1470–1532)
Elizabeth Ayres Kidd Collection of Musical Instruments; gift of Albert E. Kidd

The pot shown above is 22 centimeters (8 1/2 inches) tall. The next photograph shows the creature on the "blind" spout from a different angle.

Catalogue No. 68.59.113
Photograph by B. Bernard


Catalogue No. 68.59.114

68.59.114, mold-made ceramic whistling vessel
Proto-Chimú period, Peru (A.D. 900)
Elizabeth Ayres Kidd Collection of Musical Instruments; gift of Albert E. Kidd

Our final example is 23 centimeters (9 1/4 inches) tall. As you can see from the second photo, below, the individual is grasping what looks like a child. On closer inspection, however, the "child's" face seems more animal than human, as the second photo below shows.

Catalogue No. 68.59.114

Catalogue No. 68.59.114

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