Pre-Columbian & Western Art

Portrait Head Jar

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Portrait Head Jar
200-700 A.D.

Place of origin: Mochica, Peru
Materials: Clay
Dimensions: Ht. 16.5 W: 16 cm
Acc. No. 67.246

Made of clay, natural brown for features and details of headdress and ornamentation incised and painted in reddish brown and buff slips, this artefact, a head jar, is a vessel in the likeness of a human head, almost half of the natural size of an actual head. Hardly betraying any signs of being a vessel the artefact, vividly conceived and so close to reality, looks like a replica of a human head.

Vessels, especially those used for containing water, designed in the likeness of a human head, dimensions not fixed but around half of the size of a natural head, convenient to hold and use and yet not losing the sense of a real head, seem to have been the chosen design of Mochican, or Mohican, potters. As in this head jar such vessels were designed with a wide opening on the top, though so conceived that it did not affect its realistic appearance appropriate to a human head. Mochican wares, to include also this head jar, followed a common technique: they were cast using moulds, details added subsequently, painted and otherwise decorated, and then baked. Among the articles offered to dead, as grave offerings, a portrait head pot was more favoured than other styles of vessels. The period from about 200 to 700 AD defines the apex of Mochican clay art.

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