Skip to main content

Middle School: Jaguar Vase (Art Card)

Costa Rican, Jaguar Vase, circa 1250 to 1550, terracotta with red, white, and black paint

See the slide version of this card:

About the Culture

Costa Rica is a Central American country located between Nicaragua and Panama. Most Costa Ricans lived in chiefdoms, and their culture was influenced by larger civilizations to the north and south.


About the Art

This vessel is designed to represent a jaguar and would have been used to serve drinks. The jaguar was believed to be a god of the supernatural realm of the dead.


Look Closely

  • What colors do you see on this vessel? How does the artist make the design stand out?
  • What parts of the vessel remind you of an animal? Which parts seem more human?
  • What do you see that gives you clues to how this might have been used?



  • In many ancient American cultures, the jaguar was worshiped as a god of the underworld because of its strength, stealth, and ability to swim. Kings wore jaguar pelts as a symbol of royalty. Based on this information, how can you make connections to the role of art and ritual in power and belief systems?
  • This vessel has a ceramic bead within the hollow jaguar snout that would have moved and made a sound mimicking the roar of a jaguar when liquid was poured out of the spout. Why do you think the artist designed it this way?



What can artifacts like this vessel tell us about society in the Americas before disruption from European colonization?


Learn More

Visit the “Learn More” sidebar to find more information about the work of art and artist and find other works of art that relate to the subject matter, media, and techniques used by the artist.



See the Jaguar Vase from multiple angles!