Figure Jar


Not on view

This ceramic bottle depicting a seated figure with knees drawn up was produced between the third and sixth centuries AD on the North Coast of Peru by potters of the Moche culture. The Moche are well known for their lively sculpted vessels in the shape of animals and plants, as well as vessels with detailed scenes of human and supernatural figures engaging in a variety of activities. This vessel, with its delicately modeled facial features and long hair gathered on either side of the head, likely represents a female. The surface details were painted using cream and red-ochre colored slips (a suspension of clay and/or other colorants in water). The lower hanks of the hair appear to be wrapped in a cream-colored fabric or yarns, and she wears a red and cream mantle, tied at the neck. The mantle is rendered in such a way as to suggest that it was constructed of two separate panels, one cream, and the other orange with white crosses. The lighter panel may have once had red crosses, but the loss of surface pigment has obscured its original design.

The Moche (also known as the Mochicas) flourished on Peru’s North Coast from AD 200–850, centuries before the rise of the Incas (Castillo, 2017). Over the course of some six centuries, the Moche built thriving regional centers from the Nepeña River Valley in the south to perhaps as far north as the Piura River, near the modern border with Ecuador, developing coastal deserts into rich farmlands and drawing upon the abundant maritime resources of the Pacific Ocean’s Humboldt Current. Although the precise nature of Moche political organization is a subject of debate, these centers shared unifying cultural traits such as religious practices (Donnan, 2010).

Further reading and references

Castillo, Luis Jaime. “Masters of the Universe: Moche Artists and Their Patrons.” In Golden Kingdoms: Luxury Arts in the Ancient Americas, edited by Joanne Pillsbury, Timothy Potts, and Kim N. Richter. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2017, pp. 24–31.

Donnan, Christopher B. Moche Art of Peru: Pre-Columbian Symbolic Communication. Los Angeles: Museum of Cultural History, 1978.

Donnan, Christopher B. “Moche State Religion.” In New Perspectives on Moche Political Organization, edited by Jeffrey Quilter and Luis Jaime Castillo. Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2010.

Lapiner, Alan C. Pre-Columbian Art of South America. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1976.

Sawyer, Alan Reed. Ancient Peruvian Ceramics: The Nathan Cummings Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1966.

Figure Jar, Ceramic, slip, Moche

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