Of all the ancient civilizations that flourished in the Americas, only one perfected true portraiture of living people and produced it in quantity—the Moche who inhabited the north coast of Peru between approximately AD 100 and 800. Using the medium of three-dimensional ceramic vessels that could have contained liquid, Moche artisans typically formed the heads of the individuals they wished to portray, though sometimes they presented full figures with realistic portrait faces. Depicting an astonishing range of physical types, these portraits now allow us to meet Moche people who lived more than 1,500 years ago and to sense the nuances of their individual personalities.
This pathfinding book presents the first wide-ranging, systematic study of the Moche portraits. Drawing on more than 900 examples from museums and private collections around the world—some 300 of which are illustrated here in full color—Christopher Donnan documents how the portrait tradition evolved, how the portraits were produced and distributed, who they portrayed, why they were made, and how they were used in Moche society. His analysis is supported by extensive archaeological evidence, which provides the context for portraits found in Moche tombs and midden deposits, as well as useful information for identifying the headdresses and ornaments worn by the individuals portrayed.
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