Transitional Bodies : Amputation and Disfiguration in Moche Pottery
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"The art of the Moche culture, which thrived from 100 to 700 c.e. in Peru, is well known for its exquisite portrait vessels. These skillfully crafted ceramics include a variety of individuals shown in such detail that one can distinguish the passing of time through the aging of certain subjects. Although the Moche did not have a writing system, much can be learned about the Moche people through archaeological evidence and the complex iconography that appears in their art. The emphasis on individual characteristics found in Moche portraits is a trademark of Moche art and one commonly discussed by scholars. This affinity for realism and individuality in Moche art is further shown in the frequent depiction of individuals with facial disfigurement, mutilation, or amputation. Figures such as these are, however, often ignored in art historical scholarship. The majority of scholarship on amputation and disfigurement in Moche art has been published in the medical field, although a few art historians have visited the subject briefly in publications on other aspects of Moche art. The sole scholarly work that discusses the imagery of amputees in Moche art from an art historical perspective is an article by David Arsenault published over two decades ago, in which he examines the representation of individuals with a prosthesis on an amputated foot. Another significant contribution to this topic was published in 2004 by Ju?rgen Heck, in which he catalogued the various types of deformations found on 800 different ceramic vessels. Thus, the subject of individuals with disfiguration or amputation in Moche art needs to be revisited and examined from a new perspective. This article will look at two examples of Moche pottery from the Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Missouri, both of which feature individuals with facial disfigurement and one with amputated feet, and examine them within the context of the Moche preference for portraiture and individual characteristics in art. Additionally, this article will consider how gender relates to such representations. The frequency of disfigured individuals in Moche art, along with their appearance in ritual activities, suggests there may have been a large number of amputees or disfigured persons within the population, possibly even maintaining a level of status in both life and death."--First paragraph.
Originally published in: Muse, 2014, volume 48, pages 107-132
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