Culture: Pre-Columbian, Peru, Moche, period IV
Label Text: This is a likeness of a man who lived 1,500 years ago in northern Peru. The Moché tradition of realistic portraiture is unique among the ancient peoples of the Americas. Only men were depicted, just smaller than life-size. Multiple portraits of the same individual have been discovered, sometimes at different stages of life.
A potter first created a portrait which formed the body of the vessel. A mold of the man’s face and head was made from this vessel, so potters could make slightly altered versions. Head gear, earrings, the vessel’s spout, or other features were changed to make each portrait vessel unique. Slip (thin white and reddish colored clay) was painted onto the surface to add details and the vessel was burnished before firing to add shine.
Archeologists speculate that these men participated in ceremonial combat. The loser was ceremonially executed in the belief his blood would ensure fertile crops. Perhaps it was the willingness to risk sacrifice on behalf of the community that caused the Moché to immortalize the faces of these heroes, now long dead