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Moche Portraits from Ancient Peru by Christopher B. Donnan


Moche Portraits from Ancient Peru by Christopher B. Donnan

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.


This book is as close as we can ever come to seeing the Moche people--and to having a basis for understanding the society that produced such remarkable works of art. Craig Morris, Senior Vice President and Dean of Science, American Museum of Natural History By presenting the Moche artists and the people who have been portrayed by them, Donnan brings us to a level of understanding and proximity, so to speak, that I would have never considered possible just a few years ago... Believe me, this book is going to be a bestseller. Steve Bourget, Assistant Professor of Art History, University of Texas at Austin It is AD 500 on the desert coast of northern Peru. The master potters of the Moche civilisation are creating some of the most dazzling portrait vessels ever seen. These were real people, first appearing as warriors in their prime, then shown stripped and bound ready for sacrifice. Exactly what was happening remains a mystery. Meanwhile you can marvel at the stunning images in this excellent book. --New Scientist, 24 April 2004

About the Author

Christopher B. Donnan is Professor of Anthropology at UCLA.

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Book Info

Publication date

1st December 2003


Christopher B. Donnan

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University of Texas Press


202 pages


Art of indigenous peoples
Portraits in art



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