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Moche Mural Painting at Pañamarca: A Study of Image-Making in Ancient Peru

Lisa Trever, Harvard University, Tyler Fellow 2011–2013

The first year of the Tyler fellowship has allowed me to undertake important analyses of the Moche mural paintings (ca. 500–900 CE) excavated during my dissertation field project at Pañamarca, Peru. The dissertation examines the ways that mimetic images participated in the performance and perpetuation of Moche religious and political identity on the region’s southern margin.

This year I have focused on iconographic analysis of the paintings with respect to other media of Moche art. It now seems clear that the highly orthodox Pañamarca paintings are modeled on images found on portable objects like ceramic vessels, or perhaps tapestries, and were likely not produced by teams of mural painters dispatched from other sites. This year has also allowed me to analyze the palimpsest of architectural stratigraphy and painting sequence within the newly discovered “Recinto de los Pilares Pintados.” We can now understand how this structure and its painting programs evolved during five major renovations and also how the Moche later exhumed the earliest paintings for viewing. Understanding of the memory and reception of these important early paintings will be enhanced by ongoing technical studies of an organic residue splashed upon them in antiquity.

In the second year of the Tyler fellowship I will continue to write the dissertation, which is now well underway. I am very enthusiastic about being in residence at Dumbarton Oaks in 2012–2013 to participate in its scholarly community and to make use of the institution’s unique archives and collections.