Moche murals of northern Peru represent one of the great, yet still largely unknown, artistic traditions of the ancient Americas. Created in an era without written scripts, these murals are key to understandings of Moche history, society, and culture. In this first comprehensive study on the subject, Lisa Trever develops an interdisciplinary methodology of “archaeo art history” to examine how ancient histories of art can be written without texts, boldly inverting the typical relationship of art to archaeology.
Trever argues that early coastal artistic traditions cannot be reduced uncritically to interpretations based in much later Inca histories of the Andean highlands. Instead, the author seeks the origins of Moche mural art, and its emphasis on figuration, in the deep past of the Pacific coast of South America. Image Encounters shows how formal transformations in Moche mural art, before and after the seventh century, were part of broader changes to the work that images were made to perform at Huacas de Moche, El Brujo, Pañamarca, and elsewhere in an increasingly complex social and political world. In doing so, this book reveals alternative evidentiary foundations for histories of art and visual experience.