Peru : the land of stunning ceramics

Huaco portrait, Moche, 300-400 AD, Museo Huacas del Valle de Moche, Trujillo, Peru
Photo: Connaissance des arts

Peruvian ceramics are an amazing window into a very distant past. They show tattooed faces, ruthless traditions and unusual objects – all otherwise quite inaccessible since the people of the Andean region had no writing system before the arrival of the Europeans.

Most of the times, these objects have been found in tombs, but besides information concerning the buried individual, they offer an insight into the way these civilizations understood the universe.


Anthropomorphic vase, Inca, 1450 – 1532, Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, Paris
Photo: Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac

Here’s an Inca peasant, displaying fascinating features, wearing his adorable chocolate-caramel striped shirt and flashing an axe on his shoulder.

Portrait Vessel of a Man with a Cleft Lip and Tattoos, Moche, 100 BC–500 AD, Art Institute of Chicago
Photo: Art Institute of Chicago

Tattoos, scarifications, physical defects (such as the missing upper lip) and illness are recurring motifs.

Vessel representing a sacrifice, Moche, 1-800 AD, Museo Larco, Lima, Peru
Photo: Google Arts & Culture

Mountain scenes are believed to be common because this is the place inhabited by guardian spirits, where shamans are initiated, and where human sacrifices sometimes take place.

Vase, Moche, 100-700 AD, British Museum, London
Photo: British Museum

Peruvian ceramics also help puzzle out social hierarchy. This priest is wearing a striking monkey headband of which “a few actual examples have been excavated”, showing that “these depictions are realistic and accurate portrayals”.

Timbale, Huaco-portrait avec turban et cache-cou
Vase representing an erotic scene, Chimu, 1000-1450, Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, Paris
Photo: Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac

And let’s not forget love, in all its shapes and forms, a subject that constantly occupied the inhabitants of the Peruvian coast.

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