Portrait Jar

Portrait Jar

A.D. 400-600
Peru, north coast
Earthenware with colored slips
Accession Number
Credit Line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Morris A. Long
Portrait Jar . A.D. 400-600. Earthenware with colored slips. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Morris A. Long. 1985.410.
height: 7 in, 17.7800 cm; width: 4.75 in, 12.0650 cm
Mayer Center, Arts of the Ancient Americas
Arts of the Ancient Americas

Portrait Jar
About A.D. 400–600
Peru, north coast
Earthenware with colored slips
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Morris A. Long, 1985.410

The individual portrayed by this vessel is known from at least forty ceramic portrait vessels, more than any other individual.  He can be identified by a distinctive scar on his upper lip – thus archaeologist Christopher Donnan has dubbed him “Cut Lip.”  Some vessels present Cut Lip as a young boy, with soft, rather fleshy features.  Many others seem to portray a young man, in his teens and twenties, often wearing patterned head cloths and red face paint.  By his thirties, Cut Lip often wore ear ornaments and black painted patterns on his face and neck.  This vessel probably portrays Cut Lip shortly before his death.  His finery is gone, and he likely awaits sacrifice.  

The many portraits of Cut Lip, beginning when he was just a child, indicate that he was a member of a noble family.  He probably gained additional status through participation in warfare, but was eventually defeated and captured.  Scenes painted on Moche vessels show defeated warriors, stripped of their clothing and weapons, being marched off for sacrifice.  Evidence of a mass warrior sacrifice has been uncovered at the Huaca de la Luna in the Moche Valley.

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