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Mochica Portrait Vessels

Room 3, Vitrine 20

Northern coast of Peru
Florescent Epoch (1 AD – 800 AD)
ML003022, ML013572, ML013574


Sculptural pottery vessels decorated with remarkably realistic portraits: The cadaverous face symbolizes the underworld, where the dead dwell; the man wearing a headdress represents the earthly world inhabited by humans; and the figure with feline fangs evokes the celestial world of the gods.

  • The sculptural vessel depicting an individual wearing a bird’s head headdress, the detailed facial features of which were achieved through considerable artistry, was a gift from Rafael Larco Herrera to his son Rafael Larco Hoyle. It was with this piece that the collection of 45,000 objects currently owned by the museum was begun.
  • In these types of portrait vessel, the faces of members of the ruling elite are depicted, including priests, warriors and the most outstanding artists of Mochica culture. Some of these individuals were even portrayed at different periods in their lives.
  • Ai Apaec, the mythological Mochica hero who journeyed through different worlds, confronting different creatures, is depicted with feline fangs and serpent-like ear adornments on two of these vessels. On one of them, he is wearing an owl ear headdress; on another, he is shown in the world of the dead, with a cadaverous face and no headdress, after losing in combat.
  • Portrait vessels are found in tombs as important funerary offerings.