Chavin Art

Art Techniques

            The art of the Chavin culture is seemingly abstract and is intentionally difficult to interpret and understand because it was intended to only be read by high priests of the Chavín cult who could understand the complex and sacred designs. 

The Raimondi Stela, shown above, is a major example of the typical Chavin design technique.


            Chavin art decorates the walls of the temple and includes carvings, sculptures and pottery. Artists depicted foreign things such as jaguars and eagles rather than local plants and animals. The feline figure is one of the most important motifs seen in Chavin art. It has an important religious meaning and is repeated on many carvings and sculptures. Eagles are also commonly seen throughout Chavin art.

Famous Chavin Art

There are three important artifacts which are the major examples of Chavin art.

The Tello Obelisk, shown below, is a giant sculpted shaft featuring images of plants and animals including caymans, birds, crops, and human figures. The illustrations on this artifact may possibly tell a creation story.




Tenon heads are found throughout Chavin de Huantar and are one of the most popular images associated with the Chavin civilization. Tenon heads are large stone carvings of fanged jaguar heads which stick out from the tops of the interior walls.

Tenon Heads


The Lanzon, shown below, is a 4.53 meter long granite shaft displayed in the temple. The shaft extends through an entire floor of the structure and the ceiling. It is carved with an image of a fanged deity and it is the main cult image of the Chavin people.


What Art has Taught us About Chavin Culture

            A great deal of Chavin art was directly related to their religious beliefs; many items served religious purpose and held spiritual significance. It can be concluded that many sculpted and painted artifacts were used for religious ceremonies, while others pertained to their religious beliefs, especially in the portrayal of deities.

            Artifacts also show how Chavin used their creativity for entertainment. Large shells were transformed into musical instruments by drilling holes in them so they could be played as horns.
It can be confirmed through their various art techniques that soldering and temperature control were advanced during this time.

Chavin art also shows that cloth production was revolutionized during the time of the Chavin. New techniques and materials were popular through the use of camel hair, textile painting, the dying of camel hair and the "resist" painting style similar to modern day tie-dye.

Chavin art bears share a resemblance to Olmec art, suggesting that there may have been influence between the two cultures.