Precolombian ceramics Collection, International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza

The International Museum of Ceramics has a rich collection, partly on display and partly in storage, of the testimonies of numerous pre-Columbian civilizations. These are mostly ceramics, with a fairly significant presence of other materials (fabrics, metalwork, stone, wood and shell artifacts).

The pieces in the collection come from nine of the seventeen areas into which the American continent is divided on archaeological and cultural grounds. Many of these are displayed in seven cases divided by area, plus a case study display and two drawers. The displays are supplemented by panels and captions located on the sides of the windows and over the drawers, which explore specific cultural elements with the aid of drawings, short texts and iconographic reproductions. Visitors are thus helped to explore the region’s plants, animals, activities, deities, rituals, symbols, open and hidden meanings, decorative elements and techniques. The pre-Columbian people lived in a fascinating natural environment which stimulated their way of thinking and creativity in material, social and spiritual ways.

Pre-Columbian ceramics
A unique opportunity to admire about 250 original and very ancient pieces coming from the South American culture before the arrival of the European conquerors. The ceramic works come from different areas (Peru, Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Venezuela, Dominican republic) and allow people to have a complete vision of a great variety of cultures, a great selection of shapes and techniques. The main focus is on Mesoamerica and Peru, both for the quality of the works and fot their importance inside the general ancient American culture. Sixty-one archaeological cultures are represented and under the term “pre-Columbian” even is they are different one from the other.

this collection has been increased step by step becoming one of the most important national collection.

The works housed in this department have been acquired through important donations and a policy of pointed acquisitions.

Pre-Columbian textiles
Beside the ceramics, some rare textile items are exhibited in special chest of drawers; they follow the historic development of the textile techniques, show examples of particular dresses and decorations for the houses. They have been donated by Graziella Laffi Petracchi in 1997.

The first showcase displays sculpture and painting of non-ceramic materials and weaving. Noteworthy are a remarkable Inca wooden vase decorated with colours, an Incan interwoven head with Pachamama (Mother Earth), the head of a wooden Chancay mummy mask (fardo), a trumpet from Peru made from a shell and a zoomorphic millstone for corn from Costa Rica.

With the second showcase we enter the civilizations of central Mesoamerica (Mexico and Guatemala). The oldest cultures are represented by figurines and vases, some bottle-shaped dating from the 13th century BC to the 4th century AD. These give way to successive productions of the classical period with the typical figurative ceramics and other shapes belonging to Teotihuacan, Zapotec, Huastech, Veracruz and Maya, from the 4th to 10th centuries. Complete the overview ceramics of the Mixtec and Aztec Postclassical civilizations (10th-16th centuries) with characteristic tripod vessels, cups and figurines.

The third showcase is still dedicated to Mesoamerican area, but to its more peripheral cultures. These include the rich production of Western Mexico (Chupicuaro, Nayarit, Colima, Jalisco, with realistic figures), El Salvador, Nicaragua and the perfect forms of northern Costa Rica, spanning a period from the third to the sixteenth century. Also displayed here is the Casas Grandes polychrome production (11th-14th centuries) which belong culturally to the Western Desert of the United States.

The fourth showcase displays ceramics from less well-known areas, with a panoramic view stretching from the sixth to the sixteenth centuries. Cultures included are: the Amazon, with characteristic elements of the regional culture and Marajoara Tapajoara (figurines, urns covers and thongs), the Caribbean, with a Valencia figurine and a Taino ocarina, the Southern Andes, with vessels, fragments and spindle whorls from Bolivia, northwestern Argentina and Chile, and the Pampas, with a few Guarani fragments.

The fifth and sixth showcases are dedicated to Peru with its mosaic of civilizations producing vascular and figurative ceramics with high-expressiveness and colouring. Included are artifacts of the Chavin, Paracas, Viru, Vicus, Recuay, Nasca, Mochica, Wari and post-Wari, Sican, Cajamarca, Chancay, Chimu and Inca cultures. These cover almost all Peruvian archaeological periods, from the most ancient to the European Conquest, through a period that extends from the sixth century BC to the 16th century AD. Characteristic are wares with stirrup-shaped necks, double spouts with handle, portrait and whistling vases, pictorial or sculptural depictions, naturalistic or stylised.

The last two showcases, the seventh and eighth, exhibit ceramics from intermediate areas. These include figurines, ocarinas, characteristic tripod vases and incense burners from Costa Rica and polychrome ceramics with representations of fishes from Panama. Then follow artifacts from Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador including figurines with arms outstretched, polychrome ceramics with tripods and pedestals with positive and negative decoration; covering periods between the 21st century BC (Valdivia, Ecuador) and the 16th century AD. At the end of the itinerary, two drawers contain Peruvian textiles, both intact and in fragments. Drawer A contains a chronological subdivision of artifacts (Paracas, Nazca, Ica-Pachacamac, Chancay Tricolor and Chancay, Ica-Chincha, Chimu and Inca, from the 4th century BC to the 16th century AD. Drawer B emphasizes topics related to textile technology and pre-Columbian clothing; visitors can see multicolored fabrics – painted and embroidered, one headgear, certain types of clothes and belts.


Cup (500 AD – 900 AD)
Two dignitaries are lifting a bowl containing a reddish substance, separated by a vessel containing a bubbling liquid. This scene show a rite of religious offering through the intake of hallucinogens

Childbirth scene (100 BC – 100 AD)
Six pregnant women surrounding a woman in labour assisted by three male characters, one of which facilitates the delivery while the other two prepare and administer a narcotic to soothe the pain.

Divine Figure (200 AD – 300 AD)
Possible representation of Cihuacoatl mother goddess or the deity of women who die in childbirth.

Small bottle with two spouts and a bridge handle (500 AD – 600 AD)
The top bears the double motif of a Mythical Nasca creature with various appendices and human heads.

Figurine of masked woman in labour (1000 – 1100)
Possibly linked to the Mother-Earth cult. The baby’s head and the arms of an assistant are just visible, while on the back vertebrae can be discerned.

Portrait bottle with stirrup shaped neck (500 AD – 700 AD)
Container in the shape of head of a dignitary. The painting divides the face in three vertical bands, is finely executed with the proud expression typical of Moche.

Fragment of fabric (900 AD – 1400)
The decoration shows foxes and frogs. The fox was believed to be a mythological animal associated with the lunar cult, while the frogs symbolize the fertility of the harvest.

Female figurine (2000 BC – 1800 BC)
It is probably the representation of a pregnant woman with direct reference to the cult of the fertility of man and earth.

Tripode Millstone (metate) (200 AD – 700 AD)
Millstones were used to grind corn; the most elaborate are believed to be intended for ritual use.

Flared Beaker (kero) (1400 – 1500)
At the top is depicted the Inca emperor on a sedan chair, surrounded by carriers and warriors, while other characters hold a long chain. For ritual use.

International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza
The International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza was founded in 1908 and represents one of the greatest Museums devoted to ceramics in the world. The MIC preserves about 60.000 ceramic works, 6.000 of them are exhibited in the wide exhibition area, about 10.000 squared metres.

The International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza houses many works in its ample exhibition spaces; from Italian and European works from Medieval Ages to the nineteenth century, to important sections dedicated to pre-Colombian America, ancient Greece, the Roman period, the Middle East and Islamic ceramics.

Specific areas are dedicated to ceramics by the most important twentieth century and contemporary artists, both Italian and foreign. An impressive modern and contemporary collection containing pieces by Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Leger, Fontana, Burri, Arman, Baj, Leoncillo, Leoni, Spagnulo, Zauli, Melotti, Cerone, and other great masters. The MIC – Foundation represents a center for ceramic culture, it contains a specialized library (more than 60.000 texts), a school department, a restoration deparment. The review “Faenza” is edited at the MIC and sent to several museums and institutions in the world.

The Museum also contains a specialised library, the Giocare con l’Arte (Playing with Art) Laboratory for didactics utilizing the Bruno Munari method, and the Restoration Laboratory which has the task of maintenance of the works and also conservation in general, an essential point of contact for the technical and technological unique nature of ceramics. The Museum began publishing the review “Faenza” in 1913. The bookshop contains all of the Museum publications, from a wide choice of books dedicated to ceramics to a selection of ceramic objects produced by artisans from Faenza.