Media and Messages

A deity with condors in his hands, from a frieze at Huaca Cao Viejo, El Brujo Archaeological Complex, Chicama Valley.  Photo by J. Quilter
A deity with condors in his hands, from a frieze at Huaca Cao Viejo, El Brujo Archaeological Complex, Chicama Valley. Photo by J. Quilter

Moche art attracts modern viewers because it is representational, and we are comfortable with an art style that depicts things that we can easily identify. This view is deceptive, however, for like the early Greeks, the Moche saw their gods in human terms and found the sacred in the world around them. Study of the material expressions of these concepts in artifacts opens windows into the Moche world-view.

Some depictions appear straightforward, such as a ceramic vessel in the form of a recognizable plant or animal. Others are clearly mythical: a fierce fanged deity battling a sea monster. Still others combine “natural” and “supernatural” features into a single creature, such as a manioc tuber with a fanged deity head. 

Moche artists not only used representation to depict themselves, their environment, and specific deities, they also used their technologies to express fundamental concepts about the universe. The use of molds to produce multiple copies of images, sometimes with variations, may have been tied to notions of cosmic cycles and regeneration. Weaving techniques employed mathematical patterns of the rhythm of the world. Metallurgy transformed crude ores into smooth, shiny metal, and gold and silver were complementary materials, like the sun and moon or male and female. These artistic media spread widely, helping to disseminate the Moche world-view, its religious cult, and other aspects of culture.