Vessel with face-neck

Moche artist(s)

Not on view

Ceramic face-neck jars were a popular vessel type in ancient Peru. These containers were widely adopted at the end of the first millennium BCE, after the demise of Cupisnique-Chavín (1200-500 BCE), a religious art tradition that favored the depiction of ferocious beings and predatory animals in nature. Face-neck jars continued to be used in the Peruvian North Coast until the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century CE. This particular example was crafted by a Moche potter between 200 and 800 CE. Jars with realistic renderings of human faces have been excavated from burials in several neighborhoods at Huaca de la Luna, the largest Moche urban center in the Moche Valley (Uceda et al. 2016: 58-61).

This vessel's globular body and long neck make it well-suited to hold liquids, such as maize beer, the favorite drink for libations throughout the Andes. The medium size of this container—around 5.5 liters or 1.5 gallons—suggests it was used to transfer these liquids from larger storage containers—on the hundreds of liters—into small bowls or cups for their consumption. The details of the jar, such as the neck modeled as a human head wearing a hat and earspools, and the painted collars in the body of the vessel, however, complicate this utilitarian interpretation. The human features modeled and painted on this jar can have been seen as more than decoration: they may represent attempts by potters to animate quotidian objects by giving them human attributes.

Hugo C. Ikehara-Tsukayama, Senior Research Associate, Arts of the Ancient Americas, 2023

References and Further Readings

Castillo, Luis Jaime, Cecilia Pardo, and Julio Rucabado. Moche y sus vecinos: Reconstruyendo identidades. Lima: Museo de Arte de Lima, 2016.

Ikehara-Tsukayama Hugo C., Dawn Kriss, and Joanne Pillsbury. "Containing the Divine: Ancient Peruvian Pots." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 80, no 4 (Spring 2023).

Shimada, Izumi. "Late Moche Urban Craft Production: A First Approximation," in Moche Art and Archaeology in Ancient Peru, edited by Joanne Pillsbury, pp. 177-205. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2001.

Uceda Castillo, Ricardo Morales Gamarra, and Elías Mujica Barreda. Huaca de la Luna: Templos y dioses moches. Lima: Fundación Backus, World Monuments Fund Peru, 2016.

Vessel with face-neck, Moche artist(s), Ceramic, slip, Moche

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