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9 / Portraits

Portrait Head
Portrait Head
Artist / Origin Moche artist, Peru
Region: South America
Date ca. 200–800 CE
Period: 1 CE - 500 CE
Material Clay with paint
Medium: Ceramics
Credit Photo © David Bernstein Fine Art, New York, NY

expert perspective

Stacy GoodmanSenior Consultant for Pre-Columbian Art, Sotheby’s

Portrait Head

» Moche artist, Peru

expert perspective

Stacy Goodman Stacy Goodman Senior Consultant for Pre-Columbian Art, Sotheby’s

Portraits are a way of memorializing your status, your personality, your power. It’s a way of fighting your mortality.

The Moche portrait heads of Peru were made for a very specific purpose between 100 and 700 A.D. We know the Moche culture from their art, which is primarily pottery depicting rulers at different stages of their life. We don’t know exactly what they drank out of them. Some people think it was this maize beer. Some people think it could have been sacrificial blood. The Moche loved to portray things in an incredibly realistic way. Part of that are these facial characteristics that they show over and over again. Somebody who has a cut lip, somebody who has a droopy eye, somebody who’s got this massive jaw.

I think Moche heads are about status. They were sending the best portraits they had of their ruler to say he is now dominant. It’s like a huge billboard, he is in command here.” 

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