A Moche Stirrup Portrait Head Vessel, Moche III - V, ca. 500 - 800 CE
Over a thousand years before the rise of the Inca state in the fifteenth century, potters on Peru’s north coast produced great numbers of spectacular ceramic bottles in the shapes of humans, animals, plants, and imaginative combinations thereof.
Moche artisans excelled at the creation of “portrait vessels,” so-called for their striking apparent resemblance to specific individuals. Noted for their sensitively rendered faces, including fleshy cheeks, furrowed brows, and even scars or blind eyes, it’s clear many of these vessels depict individuals rather than more generic mass-produced portraits. In some cases, it is possible to recognize what appears to be the same individual represented in different vessels, even at different stages of their lives, from youth to middle age. While scholars hesitate to designate them as portraits of actual Moche citizens, the individualizing of the faces indicates the artists at least took inspiration from real life.
This example features the head of a nobleman wearing large decorated ear spools and a jaguar headdress decorated with front paws with bared claws above the face, hunched rear legs ready to spring, and a long tail down the back of the head. The characteristic stirrup spout emerges from the top of the head. The face features wide-staring almond-shaped eyes, a beak nose, and closed, pursed mouth.
Ref: Joanne Pillsbury. “Moche Portrait Vessels.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/mphv/hd_mphv.htm (September 2021)
Condition: Spout reattached with restoration over the break lines, some minor losses to the paint, otherwise the vessel is complete and in very good condition overall.
Dimensions: Height: 10 inches (25.4 cm), Width: 6 inches (15.24 cm)
Provenance: From the collection of Peter (1925 - 1996) and Irene Ludwig (1927 - 2010), Aachen, Germany. The Ludwigs are considered Germany's most important collector couple, and they spent most of their lives dedicated to building a massive collection of more than 14,000 works. Anchored by the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, the Ludwig collection features works ranging from Ancient Egypt and the Pre-Columbian Americas through Classical Greece and Rome to Picasso and American Pop art as well as Soviet Socialist Realism and East German art. Today, their loans and donations can be found in over 30 museums, twelve of which bear the Ludwig name, including those in Cologne, Budapest, Havana, St. Petersburg, Vienna and Beijing.
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