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Guess The Object #2: A Peruvian Moche Portrait Vessel

A Pottery Vessel in the form of a Seated Man. In the style of a Peruvian Moche Portrait vessel, for sale at The Auction Barn.


It’s that time again! Here at The Auction Barn we love bringing you the strangest, most peculiar objects in our weekly sales and do a deep dive into the history behind them. 


[To the Right: Lot No. 236, A Peruvian Archaistic Moche Style Portrait Vessel of a Seated Man with a Dour Expression, with Red Ground and Cream Glaze with Incised Decoration, with previous repairs. 20cm (H) x 17cm (D).]


For our second #guessthatobject challenge, we asked our readers to have a look at this peculiar little vessel. In the form of a seated man, he is depicted with an unusual expression - perhaps noble, perhaps dour - wearing a head wrap that ties under his chin. His pronounced lip, eyes, and eyebrows add a great deal of character and a familiarity to his face. There is light incised detail to his body, culminating in two hands with a suggestion of them resting upon his knees or feet. The rounded handle comes with a spout, extending from his back to his head.

The piece is an archaistic - as in, made in archaic style - Peruvian figure bottle or ‘stirrup’ vessel, made in the image of pieces crafted by the Moche culture, which existed in the 100s to the 700s CE along the northern coast of modern day Peru. With a rich ochre red terracotta base, decorated with white slip, the vessel with repairs adds a wonderful decorative element to any space.

A Peruvian Moche Culture Llama Vessel from the Cleveland Museum of Art.


 [To the Left: An Moche Culture Peruvian Earthenware Llama Vessel, decorated with coloured slips, c.200-550 CE, in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, accession no. 1990,128]


With antiquities, so often we expect to see a look of serenity, calmness, elegance. With Moche vessels, it is impossible to ignore the sheer personality each piece radiates, whether it be ferocity, love, benevolence, or power. Many pieces also represent spiritual aspects of Moche culture, such as life and death, anthropomorphic animals, battle scenes, or amorous couples. This excellent rendition of an original vessel is just one of several Pre-Colombian style pieces coming up for auction very soon!


Offered without reserve, the item will be lot no. 236 in our weekly Antiques & Collectables sale, ending on the 19th of September, 2021. Other highlights include a double-barrelled whistling vessel with a Jaguar topper.


For further reading on the fascinating subject of Peruvian pottery, see the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s survey of Moche Ceramics, and head to the collection of the Museo Larco, a privately owned Museum of pre-Colombian artefacts, including the famous ‘Huaco Retrato Mochica’ portrait vessel, a particularly fine example of Moche portraiture.


For the previous 'Guess That Object' article, see Guess That Object #1: A Wolseley Sheep Shearing Co. Screwdriver!