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Portrait Vessel of a Ruler

Sculpted head of a medium-skinned man in a beige headdress with geometric pattern and distinctive stirrup-shaped top piece.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • Sculpted head of a medium-skinned man in a beige headdress with geometric pattern and distinctive stirrup-shaped top piece.


100 BCE–500 CE


North coast, Peru

About this artwork

Among the most distinctive art objects of the ancient Peruvians were ceramic vessels produced by the artists of the Moche culture, which flourished on the north coast between about 100 BC and AD 500. Remarkable for their sculptural naturalism, these stirrup-spout bottles were molded without the aid of a potter’s wheel and painted in earth tones. Moche potters represented everything about their world, from domestic scenes to architecture, ritual events and royal personages, and animals and plants. This portrait vessel portrays individual characteristics—the furrowed brow and full, slightly protruding upper lip—as well as general features recognizable among Peruvian Indians today. With his commanding expression and proud bearing, the depicted ruler conveys an indelible sense of the power of Moche leaders. His elite status is further indicated by his fine headdress, decorated with the geometric motifs of Moche textiles, and by his elongated ear ornaments and the traces of facial paint on his forehead and cheeks. Vessels such as this were placed in burials as funerary offerings, but before they accompanied an individual to the grave, they may also have been sent as emblems of royal authority from a center of power to neighboring districts along with gifts of textiles and other ceremonial presents.


On View, Gallery 136


Arts of the Americas




Portrait Vessel of a Ruler


Peruvian North Coast (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

100 BCE–500 CE


Ceramic and pigment


35.6 × 24.1 cm (14 × 9 1/2 in.)

Credit Line

Kate S. Buckingham Endowment

Reference Number


IIIF Manifest  The International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) represents a set of open standards that enables rich access to digital media from libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions around the world.

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Extended information about this artwork

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