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Ceramics - Vessels


Moche Vessels (Peru)

Origin I Characteristics I Urgency of the Situation I Legislation I Bibliography

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Moche vessel,
ceramic, 33 x 17 cm
Moche vessel,
ceramic, 35 x 18 cm
Moche vessel,
ceramic, 29 x 18 cm
  © Instituto Nacional de Cultura © Instituto Nacional de Cultura © Instituto Nacional de Cultura


Northern coast of Peru.


Moche vessels are generally found in tombs located in the northern, coastal departments of Lambayeque and La Libertad, and in the north of the Ancash department, Peru. The most important items date from between 200 and 700 AD.
Best-known Moche or Mochica ritual ceramics include globular vessels portraying painted figurative scenes and vessels shaped in the form of naturalistic representations of human figures, animals and scenes. The two predominant colors are cream and red-brown or brick red. Globular vessels feature stirrup-spouts over the body whereas in the other vessels stirrup-spouts are located in the rear or sides.
Although they vary in size, vessels average 35 cm in height and 20 cm in diameter.
Stirrup-spout globular vessels feature a smooth surface and painted decoration although sometimes they are worked in low relief over a cream-colored background. Decoration consists of a wide range of figurative scenes dealing with activities such as war, ceremonies, hunting, fishing and sacrifices. These images portray warriors, priests and a few women. Items from later periods also feature geometric decorations such as lines, curves, spirals, triangles, ladder-like motifs and zigzags.
Vessels in the shape of figures portray warriors with weapons, prisoners with tied hands, mythological characters with feline fangs. They also feature erotic scenes or sacrifices. Portrait jars in the shape of a human head with realistic facial features are also well-known. Cream and red-brown vessels in the shape of animals, sea creatures, vegetables, temples and mountains are extremely common. Some of these are entirely black.
Moche vessels are the best-known and most valued but other similar vessels in the shape of figures, featuring brighter colors, exist. They are issued from the Virú, Recua, and Salinar cultures from the different valleys of the northern coast of Peru and the southern coast of Ecuador. They usually date from earlier periods or are contemporary with Moche vessels.


--Urgency of the Situation  

These vessels are modeled with care and painted scenes are drawn with precision and skill, which accounts for the highly perfected shapes and scenes. They reach a very high price on the market, as they are greatly appreciated for their beauty and for their descriptive value.
They are also remarkable for their scientific interest as they accurately describe the customs and rituals of ancient Moches. Objects found in funeral sites are closely related to one another. Therefore, a piece that is separated from the others and taken out of context loses its potential to be informative.
Stirrup-spout vessels featuring painted ritual scenes and vessels in the shape of figures are in particular danger.


--Legislation Protecting these Objects  

See Peru

  • Donnan, Christopher B. & McCleland, Donna. Moche Fineline Painting: Its Evolution and its Artist. Los Angeles, UCLA, Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1999.
  • Donnan, Christopher B. & McCleland, Donna. The Burial Theme in Moche Iconography. Washington, D.C., Dumbarton Oaks,Trustees for Harvard University, 1979.
  • Larco Hoyle, Rafael. Los Mochicas. Lima, Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera, 2001.




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October 2003