Installation view of Kukuli Velarde: Free, Total, Faithful, and Fruitful. The CORPUS series.
April 02, 2024

Ancient Peruvian Inspiration in Ceramic Series

Each of Kukuli Velarde’s sculptures in the series CORPUS is inspired by a different ancient Peruvian culture. What do the ceramic works from those cultures look like?

Sacred indigenous entities of Perú survived for centuries beneath the guise of European Catholic saints and virgins. In her series CORPUS, Kukuli Velarde blends pre-Columbian symbols and forms with European Catholic iconographies to contest that indigenous spirits were not vanquished by Spanish conquerors.

Examine the reference images below to see how Velarde drew inspiration from ancient Peruvian ceramic traditions for this body of work.

Kukuli Velarde's Virgen de Belen with two reference images.

Figure 1 (Left): Spout-and-bridge bottle with warrior, 400–600 CE. Ceramic, slip. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Figure 2 (Center): Kukuli Velarde, Virgen de Belén from the series CORPUS, 2015/2016. Low fire clay, underglazes, casein paint, plasticized fabric. Courtesy of the Artist. Figure 3 (Right): Bottle with female figure, 400–600 CE. Ceramic, slip. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.*&offset=0&rpp=20&pos=7.

Virgen de Belén

Inspired by work from the Nasca culture (c. 100 BCE – 800 CE). Nasca ceramics are distinctive for their profusion of color and smooth, shiny surface. In Virgen de Belén, Velarde draws on the Nasca palette, form, and banding technique to separate space.


Kukuli Velarde's Santa Ana with reference image

Figure 4 (Left): Stirrup-Spout Bottle: Two Figures, c. 1200–500 BCE. Ceramic. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Figure 5 (Right): Kukuli Velarde, Santa Ana from the CORPUS series, 2013/2016. Low fire clay, casein paint, graphite. Courtesy of the Artist.

Santa Ana

Santa Ana is recognized as the patron of women who desire to be mothers, grandmothers, or educators. In European Catholic imagery, she is usually pictured holding the Virgin Mary.

This work by Velarde is inspired by Cupisnique culture (c. 1500 – 500 BCE). The Cupisnique lived on the Peruvian North Coast, and their ceramics range from figures to incised designs of fruits and animals. Frequently, the figures combine anthropomorphic and zoomorphic features, agnathic faces (without lower jaws), and upturned eyes.

With Santa Ana, Velarde recalls a stirrup-shaped vessel, a common form in Peruvian ceramics for 2,500 years. Additionally, the dark color of the sculpture nods to the Cupisnique ceramic process of limiting oxygen to create soot that attached to the surface. In Figure 1, there are two distinct bodies: an anthropomorphic face on top and a zoomorphic entity coming out of its chest. Similarly, the lower, mother figure in Figure 2 gazes up at a child whose body resembles a cat.


Kukuli Velarde's Virgen Natividad with reference image

Figure 6 (Left): Stirrup Spout Bottle, c. 1100–1400 CE. Ceramic, slip. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Figure 7 (Right): Kukuli Velarde, La Virgen de la Natividad from the series CORPUS, 2016/2017. Low fire clay, graphite. Courtesy of the Artist.

La Virgen de la Natividad

Inspired by work from the Chimú culture (c. 850 – 1470 CE). Like the La Virgen de la Natividad Corpus Christi effigy, Velarde’s representation features the Virgin Mary wearing a crown and carrying a baby Jesus. Velarde adopts the black color, round basin form, and textured elements from the Chimú.


Kukuli Velarde's La Virgen de los Remedios with reference image

Figure 8 (Left): Effigy Bottle, c. 200 BCE–500 CE. Earthenware with burnished slip paint. The Walters Art Museum.
Figure 9 (Right): Kukuli Velarde, La Virgen de los Remedios from the series CORPUS, 2014/2015. Low fire clay, underglazes, casein paint, gold leaf, Indian ink marker. Courtesy of the Artist.

La Virgen de los Remedios

The title of this piece comes from an epithet for the Virgin Mary, which stems from the belief that she can bring healing to those who pray to her. The designs in Velarde’s green and gold base pull from the patterns on the dress and crown of the Corpus Christi La Virgen de los Remedios effigy. The stick in Figure 8’s hand is also from the Corpus Christi representation.

However, the style of Velarde’s La Virgen de los Remedios is inspired by the Recuay culture (c. 1200 BCE – 800 CE) from the highlands in the north-central Andes. Recuay ceramics are characterized by three-dimensionality, depictions of human figures, fruits, or vegetables, and resist-painting techniques. The narrative wares often featured Andean concepts of dualism as well as the importance of female participants in rituals and politics.

In Recuay culture, a face-shaped headdress depicted an ancestor or spiritual leader. Velarde’s interpretation depicts the face of a child, likely representative of Jesus. The sculpture’s Recuay inspiration is also evident in its form, black and white geometric elements, and facial markings.


Kukuli Velarde's La Purificada with reference image.

Figure 10 (Left): Effigy Pot, c. 400–600 CE. Ceramic, red & buff ware, in the form of anthropomorphic maize. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Figure 11 (Right): Kukuli Velarde, La Purificada from the series CORPUS, 2012. Low fire clay, casein paint, gold leaf, aluminum foil. Courtesy of the Artist.

La Purificada

Inspired by work from the Moche culture (c. 100 – 700 CE) in northern Perú. This ceramic tradition is best known for naturalistic faces and facial expressions. Many Moche wares honor the sanctity of maize, a prominent corn-like crop in the region.