Portrait Bottle

Portrait Bottle

A.D. 400-600
Culture
Moche
Locale
Peru, north coast
Country
Peru
bottle
Earthenware with colored slips
Museum Exchange
1971.356
. Portrait Bottle . A.D. 400-600. Earthenware with colored slips. Museum Exchange. 1971.356.
Dimensions
height: 9 in, 22.8600 cm; diameter: 5 in, 12.7000 cm
Department
Mayer Center, Art of the Ancient Americas
Collection
Art of the Ancient Americas

Portrait Bottle
Moche
About A.D. 400–600
Peru, north coast
Earthenware with colored slips
Museum exchange, 1971.356

Moche stirrup-spout bottles were often made in the form of human beings – either full figures or heads alone.  Poses, costumes, and attributes help identify a variety of social roles – warriors, prisoners, healers, musicians, and mothers among them.  A small percentage of these vessels can be considered true portraits, with accurately rendered facial features that are distinctive enough to identify specific individuals.  According to archaeologist Christopher Donnan, these were manufactured for only a limited period of time in the northern portion of the southern Moche realm (the Chicama, Moche, and Virú Valleys).  This bottle belongs to a distinctive subgroup of the full-figure vessels in which the head is fully modeled, while the body is spherical, with limbs, costume elements, and accoutrements painted in two dimensions on the surface.  Unusually, this figure has uncovered, smoothly parted hair, and also lacks ear or neck ornaments.  The face has delicate features, including lenticular eyes, a firm chin, and a mouth with a thin lower lip.  The figure’s garb is simple: a tunic with patterned sleeves and a cloak or mantle tied at the chest.  The face appears feminine, but an individualized portrait of a woman would be extremely unusual.   Conceivably, the bottle instead portrays a boy not yet entitled to display emblems of social or religious rank.