- Museum number
Vase (in form of seated figure) made of pottery. The solemn bearing of this individual and the plain cape knotted at the front suggest that he is a priest. The square plaque may represent a pectoral of shell mosaic set in wood. Attached to his headdress is a pair of crouching pumas or monkeys (the rear legs are visible towards the back of the headdress). His facial adornment may have been painted or tattooed and he wears a string of small shells across his chin.
- Production date
Height: 46 centimetres
- Curator's comments
McEwan 2009, p.52
Ceramic Vessel of a priest. Moche, Peru. 2nd-8th century AD
Different offices are represented in the Moche social hierachy, ranging from priests and warriors up to ruling lords. Items of costume and ornament provide intriguing clues to their identity, roles and responsibilities. This figure wears a chest ornament with a four-part stepped geometric pattern.
His headband is surmounted by a pair of attached monkeys with a chin strap to help keep the assemblage in place. Similar figures wear headbands adorned with birds or felines. A few actual examples have been excavated, which show that these depictions are realistic and accurate portrayals. Monkeys tend to be associated with the 'underworld' - a licentious and unruly realm that exists outside established cultural order with its codes of acceptable behaviour. Beneath a line traced across the chin hangs a row of flies emerging from their pupal cases, perhaps alluding to beliefs about that flies that mysteriously emerge from within corpses that have been left exposed to the elements following sacrifice. These associations help make the case for identifying this figure as a priest charged with mediating between the worlds of the living and the dead.
- On display (G1/wp40)
- Exhibition history
1979-1982, London, Museum of Mankind, 'Moche pottery from Peru'
1997 13 Oct-1998 5 Jan, India, New Delhi, National Museum, The Enduring Image
1998 9 Feb-3 May, India, Mumbai, Sir Caswasjee Jahangir Hall, The Enduring Image
- Acquisition date
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number