Moche Influence
by Elise Catron

The Moche is an archaeological culture that existed on the north coast of Peru, dating to the Early Intermediate period from about 100 A.D. to 500 A.D. (Quilter 1990).Moche is also a distinct art style found within the bounds of the same archaeological context, and most famously of the art styles is the naturalistic and articulate ceramics, particularly in the form of stirrup-spout vessels, that have come from the related ancient culture.A five-phase ceramic sequence spanned the era of Moche polity and generall shows increasingly elaborate decoration (Quilter 1990).The ceramics incorporate a wide-ranging subject matter, whether the actual form of the pot or the fineline paintings on them, of representations that include people, animals, and gods hunting and making war, music making, visiting rulers, burying the dead, curing the sick, anthropomorphic and ritual scenes (Weismantel 2004).Moche ceramics illustrate all manner of behavior, both human and divine, through expressive modeling and painting, but there were certain reoccurring narrative themes throughout that defined their ideologies.

basrelief.jpgSculpture and Modeling
Ceramic Production
In most regions of ancient Peru, pottery was made by building each vessel with coils of paste –on the north coast of Peru, casting pottery from molds seems to be the preferred method of manufacture for mortuary pottery in the early Moche culture (Parsons 1962).Archaeologists know that pottery was made from molds because the seam where the cast sections join can be recognized.However, few actual duplicate castings from the same mold have been documented from museum or private collections, and no more than two castings from any one mold have been reported (Parsons 1962).Parsons describes four casts from the same mold of a fish-demon motif that is raised in bas-relief on stirrup-spout jars, including red and cream paint and the occasional black detail.He makes note that though none of these appear to be duplicates (the spout form and distribution of colors is different on each), careful inspection of the vessel surfaces shows that the relief is basically the same on each.It is known that mold-made spouts were applied to independently mold-made bodies (Parsons 1962).Parson comments that it is not known how many copies were possible to make from a single clay mold.The molds were made in two hemispherical pieces over an original thick walled clay model; and before the pot was painted or fired, its surface was re-touched to sharpen the edges of the relief and to correct imperfections (Parsons 1962).
Another set of vessels that Parsons examines have the relief of two warrior figures, each made in a different mold, but he points out that certain themes were so popular that a number of different molds were made illustrating the same subject matter.Both sets of pots that Parsons reviews depict mythological scenes that seem to be interrelated.The fanged god, Ai-Apec, a principal Moche deity, is shown on one of the jars as having just captured one of his favorite adversaries, the fish-demon.One of the cast of four jars depicts this anthropomorphized fish-demon, carrying a knife.In the second series of jars, two deities engage in hand to hand combat: Ai-Apec and the fish-demon (Parsons 1962).
Infant with suspected Robinow syndrome

Pottery representing actual people in Moche ceramics is one of the best known art forms from the Andes.The pieces are very realistic, representing specific individuals, most likely that of important people or rulers (Anadiotis 2000).These portrait jars depict weaknesses and physical disabilities accurately; a wide variety depicts disfigured individuals and individuals with genetic defects (Anadiotis 2000).Anadiotis chooses two portrait jars to command her point: one of an infant with the realistic proportion of the body and the short appearing upper extremities.The face displays “hyperteloric eyes, and upturned nose and a downturned mouth,” which may possibly be a representation of Robinow (fetal face) syndrome (Anadiotis 2000).The second jar shows a face with a cleft lip, very realistic.But more importantly, as Anadiotis points out, is the characterization of the face: he looks forward with a calm gaze, not embarrassed by his defect.Anadiotis notes that this is not unusual, but many individuals depicted with genetic defects are shown to be well-dressed or involved in important roles in Moche artwork.This may be in part to the Moche worldview, which as a hierarchical culture, people saw the world as a very ordered place.For them, the processes that created such a disfigurement were treated with respect and the people they affected were considered part of the normal human “landscape” (Anadiotis 2000).
Sex: The Idea of Reproduction
Like other ancient cultures, the Moche depicted sexual acts in their artwork, particularly in jar models.The sex-themed vessels are both functional clay pots, with hollow chambers for holding liquid and stirrup-spouts for pouring (Weismantel 2004).Like many other Andean artifacts, these pieces are stripped of context and absent of any written records.What is curious about these “sex pots” is what is represented versus what is absent: sodomy, masturbation, and fellatio are frequently depicted, while penile penetration of the vagina is very rare (Weismantel 2004).The most commonly epicted sexual act is anal sex, indicating that is was reproduced over and over in a variety of styles, indicating that is was produced in many different workshops over a long period of time.Clusters of thematic groups have different meanings: the anal sex scenes typically depict the two figures as similar in size, shape of limbs and torso, and design of body paint, adornments or tattoos. In contrast, fellatio scenes show the position and costume of the fellated figure indicates greater power than the kneeling, anonymous fellator (Weismantel 2004).
Moche sex pot

Moche artists took great care to demonstrate that the area of penetration was the anus and not the vagina.Accompanying the two figures engaging in the sexual act is often a third figure, a tiny and shapeless body of an infant, who lies next to woman’s chest to breastfeed while she has sex (Weismantel 2004).Looking at this scene, with the infant present while intercourse is taking place, it is plausible to conclude that the act of anal sex has a greater value in Moche culture than a simple act of pleasure.There is generalized notion of procreation documented in South America that the substance that is transmitted from the man’s body into the woman’s as seminal fluid is the same substance that passes though her nipple into the baby’s mouth; this scene depicts the movement of this nurturing fluid between three bodies, to the ultimate benefit of the infant (Weismantel 2004).Fertility was the source of ancestral power: life, health and abundance flowed from the dead and could have been taken away if their happiness and goodwill were not constantly cultivated through ritual action (Weismantel 2004).Relative to the documented practices of modern cultures that practice fellatio (by both male and females) and anal sex as a way of passing along the ancestral line as well as “feeding” the fetus, this representation of the jar could be an ancient mirror of that belief.
Ownership of these sex pots was restricted to a “rarified elite,” and production, too, was likely controlled by a specialized stratum of craft producers (Weismantel 2004).Reproductive ideologies must have reinforced principles of gender, generation and descent as well as differentiating between economic strata (Weismantel 2004).Moche culture was organized by layers of hierarchical lineages, so for members of these powerful lineages, controlling reproduction would have been very important, which would have influenced what these privileged consumers wished to see represented in arts of work (Weismantel 2004).

Fineline Paintings
Fineline paintings demonstrate seemingly different themes and the pantheon of the interrelated narratives that play out a complete story sequence.Themes include fishing by supernatural beings, hunting, boating, the Presentation theme and “runner” figures.One important theme during the late Moche cultural period is the Revolt of the Objects, when inanimate objects come to life, and chase humans.Otherwise, turning normalcy into chaos.
Revolt of the Objects, Berlin Vase

Revolt of the Objects
Quilter discusses two distinct pottery vessels that are known for the Revolt of the Objects theme, as well as a mural in the Huaca de la Luna.The thematic unity is evident by common depictions of various articles of military regalia and weapons that are shown with arms and legs and attacking humans or holding them captive (Quilter 1990).The Berlin vase is reported to come from the Hacienda de Casa Grande in the Chicama Valley.It shows avian, terrestrial and maritime activities with a central, skirted human in a gabled structure, with two naked human held captive with ropes by the animated objects (Quilter 1990).Although the Moche were costal dwellers, they rarely depicted the sea unless it has a specific purpose in art, and some of the revolting figures of the painting are in direct association with the water suggesting the sea in involved with the events happening on land (Quilter 2000).Beneath the wave, a series of alternating fish and sea lions or seals is shown; the fish have open mouths while the sea lions are grimacing, supporting the argument that the fish are chasing the sea lions in a reversal of their normal roles (Quilter 2000).The entire scene of the vessel suggests that the normal order of things has been reversed with the objects attacking humans and the prey becoming the predator (Quilter 2000).
The other vessel that Quilter examines is the Munich vase that is also said to come from the Chicama Valley.It is a more elaborate presentation of the same events of military regalia and armaments combating with humans (Quilter 2000).In the lowest part of the painting, the objects are successfully attacking human who are shown in various stages of defeat and capture: warriors grabbed by the chin or hair and naked and bound prisoners.At the top of the scene, the animate objects are captured by a number of supernaturals who have halted the revolt.In the middle, figures that have been identified as the Owl Deity and the Woman seem to be the ones that have brought the objects to life, and the human figure sitting under the tree in the middle seems to be pleading the Rayed Deity, perhaps in remorse for what he has asked the other supernatural deities to begin (Quilter 2000).Quilter makes the analysis that the basic tale concerns the rising up of artifacts against humans.He notes that these depictions arise in the late phases and the Moche style when the Moche polity was experiencing changes in its extent and power which led to its eventual end, or at least a major structural transformation (Quilter 2000).

By just touching on three artistic representations of Moche pottery and ceramic manufacture that the culture was keen on representing the ideologies of politics, ritual and social regulations.They incorporate finely represented natural human and man-made objects interacting with supernatural deities in paranormal circumstances.They expose their belief of the fundamental importance of continuing ancestral lineage by passing bodily fluids between men and women and onto the fetus.They also show an incredible ability to depict character of a man, or the physical attributes of a infant that might have been effected by genetic disease.


Anadiotis, G.
2000 Genetic defects as recorded in the pottery of the Moche culture of Peru.Clinical
Genetics 57:347-348.

Parsons, Lee A.
1962 An Examination of Four Moche Jars from the Same Mold.American Antiquity

Quilter, Jeffrey
1990The Moche Revolt of the Objects.Latin American Antiquity 1(1):42-65.

Weismantel, Mary
2004 Moche Sex Pots: Reproduction and Temporality in Ancient South America