Moche Portrait Vessel
Moche Portrait Vessel

June 11, 2015: Moche Portrait Vessel

Early Intermediate to Middle Horizon 100-750 C.E.
14 x 12 x 22 cm

Portrait vessels such as this one are characteristic of the Moche, a culture that lived along Peru’s northern coast about 100-800 CE. The Moche economy was centered on agriculture and fishing, and political power seems to have been regionally controlled by ruling families. Like other cultures of the Peruvian coast, the Moche produced exceptional ceramics, and they are known for naturalistic depiction of the human form, as seen in their portrait vessels, which depict individuals with all their idiosyncrasies, including cleft lips, missing eyes, and other distinguishing features.

The faces depicted in the portrait vessels were often made from molds, and the same face can sometimes been found in multiple vessels, though the hand-detailing and the garb may vary. The subjects portrayed are usually adult men, although some childlike faces have been found. Break patterns and evidence of repair suggest that they were used in day to day life, though their precise function is unknown. The looped spout in the coronal plane is a characteristic feature of Moche portrait vessels, and seems to indicate that they were used to hold liquid.

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