The Moche “portrait head” vessels are sometimes claimed to be exceptions to Andean traditions favoring abstract art. In many ways, however, the Moche participated in other northern cultural patterns in which there was a long tradition of depicting humans.
Many portrait heads are so distinctive in their facial features that it seems highly likely that they were modeled on real, living people. Some faces have straight, thin lips and straight noses (1, 2), while others are round and chubby with wide noses and distinctive pursed lips (3), and still others have wide, open eyes and other distinctive features (4, 5) among many more types.
Some human head vessels are so indistinctly done that it is uncertain if they are meant to depict specific individuals (6). There are even miniature vessels with very simply rendered faces (7). Compare the miniature vessel with wide eyes and double earspools (8) with a larger vessel (5). Do they portray the same individual or different people? If they do show the same person, it is difficult to know if it is meant to be a Moche lord or a mythological hero.