This is by far the most stunning Moche vessel we have ever handled. Dating to the Moche I phase (first - second century C.E.) this vessel depicts a highly important man, probably a warrior but perhaps also a priest or a chieftain.
He is sitting with legs crossed and his hands on his knees. On his head he wears a braided turban, on top of which is a spectacular twin-headed animal headdress. In addition he has a necklace, bracelets and ear spools.
The vessel was made in greyish clay, the eyes are inlaid with turquoise and the ear spools have a copper core. But the most fantastic element is the use of shell beads in the animal headdress and turban, as well as in his jewellery and for the iris or pupil or the eyes. Most probably spondylus shell was used for this, which was highly prized in Peru as a sacred material and was therefore used in religious and burial rites, as well as in ornaments for nobility.
This fabulous vessel is one of the best we have ever offered, truly worthy of the finest private collection or a museum.
For the use of spondylus shells in Moche art see:
Izumi Shimada, Pampa Grande and the Mochica Culture (University of Texas Press, 1994), 214-216 and 238;
Elizabeth P. Benson - Anita G. Cook (eds.), Ritual Sacrifice in Ancient Peru (University of Texas Press, 2001), esp. 35-52;
Kathleen Berrin (ed.), The Spirit of Ancient Peru: Treasures from the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera (Thames and Hudson, 1997).
Moche I, circa 1st-2nd century C.E.
Height 19.7 cm.
Private Dutch collection, obtained from Artemis Gallery; prior to that private U.S. collection, acquired prior to 1970.
One shell in the necklace missing, part of the snout of one animal restored, else quite choice.