Jaguar effigy vessel

Guanacaste-Nicoya culture
Period VI
A.D. 1000–1350

Object Place: Nicaragua, Rivas region


Overall: 29.2 x 21.1 x 24.1 cm (11 1/2 x 8 5/16 x 9 1/2 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Earthenware with red and black on white slip paint

On View

Ancient South America Gallery (Gallery LG33)





Pear-shaped pottery vessel portraying a shaman transformed into his/her jaguar alter ego during a visionary quest.The fierce spirit erupts from the jar, jutting its feline head out through a dark rayed circle, with gaping mouth and teeth bared ready to attack. Small pellets inside the hollow front legs produce a rattling sound when the vessel is moved, recalling the low grumble of the jaguar as it stalks its prey. The shaman’s human form is conveyed by the jaguar’s vertical attack pose wich mimics that of the trance-seeker’s conventional position seated on a low stool and with hands resting on the knees. The sensation of loss-of-body, typical of the visionary experience, is evoked by the black-painted limbs and head broken apart by the jar’s white background, the limbs seeming to float in a featureless void. Tiny profile jaguars adorn the black-painted limbs in contrast to the tail-less human-like forms on the opening through which the jaguar thrusts its head. Together these tiny figures echo the jar’s theme of the human shaman residing within the visionary jaguar.


Collection of Paul A. Clifford and William C. Thibadeau by 1972; purchased by the High Museum, Atlanta, 1972, and deaccessioned in 1998; sold Sotheby's, June 2, 1999, lot 48; to private collection; with Sotheby's, by October 2004; to MFA, February 2005, purchase.

Credit Line

Museum purchase with funds donated by Leigh B. and Steve Braude