Pre-Columbian, North Coast Peru, Moche, late Moche I to early Moche II, ca. 100 BCE to 300 CE. A beautiful bichrome pottery vessel with a planar base, globular body, an arching stirrup-shaped handle, and a tubular spout with an angular lip. Each side of the cream-slipped vessel displays a victorious standing abstract warrior, dressed in a vertically striped tunic with sinuous tassels projecting from either side, with a triangular head defined by a toothy grin, circular eyes, petite ears, and a plumed headdress. Each figure hold a ceremonial tumi in one hand and the hair of a severed trophy head in the other. Warfare and warriors are recurrent themes in Moche art, a strong testimony to the violence of Moche society which was riven by intense inter-rivalry competition. It was common after battle for triumphant warriors to ceremonially sever the heads of the loser, hence why trophy head motifs are so common in Moche artistry. A fabulous example replete with careful attention to detail and an intriguing presentation. Size: 5" W x 7.125" H (12.7 cm x 18.1 cm).
The Moche were masterful ceramicists. Most of their vessels were mold made standard shapes and forms. However, iconographically their decorations boasted a rich range of subjects. Some were embellished with stylized, abstract, and violent motifs as we see in this example. In addition, human subjects were depicted, in some cases as portrait vessels, others as representative warriors, rulers, healers, etc. There was a ritual element to Moche warfare too: prisoners had to be captured to make sacrifices to the gods. This figure seems to be an ordinary warrior rather than a lord, as the latter are usually depicted wearing domed helmets.
Scholars disagree as to their functionality and use of vessels like this example. Until recently most believed these vessels to be funerary wares. However, some argue that they were created for domestic purposes, feasts, rituals, or other ceremonial uses. The research continues and fortunately we have pieces such as this example to serve as a window upon the ancient world.
For similar examples of trophy head motifs, please see: Donnan, Christopher B., and Donna McClelland. Moche Fineline Painting: Its Evolution and Its Artists. University of Washington Press, 2002, pp. 31 (fig 2.15), pp. 24 (fig 2.20).
Provenance: private California, USA Collection
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Handle and portion of spout reattached with light resurfacing and overpainting along break lines. Surface wear and abrasions commensurate with age as expected, minor nicks to rim, handle, body, and base, and some fading to pigmentation. Light earthen deposits and great mineral deposits throughout.