Portrait Head Bottle

Date: 5th–6th century

Geography: Peru

Culture: Moche

Medium: Ceramic

Dimensions: Overall: 12 3/4 in. (32.39 cm)

Classification: Ceramics-Containers

Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Cummings, 1964

Accession Number: 64.228.21


The Moche peoples were prolific potters. They produced thousands of ceramic vessels—primarily stirrup-spout bottles—for use in rituals and mortuary events. The so-called portrait head vessels, such as this, which may depict important individuals in Moche society perhaps at different stages of their lives, have distinctive facial features with varied expressions. Age differences appear as well, for instance, wrinkles for age were modeled onto the face before firing. This portrait head wears a head cloth over his hair; a band decorated with four serpents, two on each side, is worked around the crown of the head. The profile serpents have open mouths, rows of bared teeth, and bifurcated tongues. They face each other in the center of the forehead. The face is painted—along the nose bridge, a triangle from nose to mouth, and a larger rectangle on each cheek. This pattern is seen on prominent people and even on major gods in Moche art. Under the chin and around the neck is a series of stepped motifs.