The Moche lived across a large region of modern-day Peru from 200 – 900 CE. Unlike many ancient civilizations who unified under one ruling system of government, the Moche people never formed a single centralized political entity. Instead, they shared cultural traits, such as religious practices and symbolism, amongst smaller groups. As a whole, the Moche were known for their metalwork (in the northern regions) and ceramics (in the southern regions), though all regions produced fine work in all media, including textiles.
What’s going on in this work?
Nose ornaments or pendants are called nariguera and were likely worn by important figures and during ceremonies. The level of embellishment of a nariguera may indicate the social or political status of the wearer or the occasion for which the ornament would have been worn. Moche nariguera that survive today range from being completely flat with no surface decoration to being inlaid with colorful precious stones.
The Butterfly Nose Ornament in the Snite Museum of Art’s collection is very large and would have covered the entire lower half of the wearer’s face. The small oval opening along the top edge would have allowed the ornament to lightly clamp around the wearer’s septum. This ornament features a butterfly mounted on a large, flat, reflective surface. The butterfly is rendered in great anatomical detail. Its body is divided into rounded segments, and the head, with antenna and large eyes, is perched on top. The wings are decorated with raised spots and wing veins and are mounted on small springs, which allow the wings to flutter with the slightest movement. The entire insect is attached to the main body of the disk by thin copper legs.
Take a closer look.
Click on the full image of the Butterfly Nose Ornament above to see a larger version of the work. Look closely at the work and use these questions to guide your looking. Share your thoughts with your family, a friend virtually, or with us by responding to this email.
This nose ornament would cover your mouth if you were wearing it. How do you think it would feel? The butterfly is articulated, which is why it is able to flutter slightly. How do you think you would make it move while wearing the piece?
While the importance of the butterfly in Moche culture is unknown, it appears to have been a popular motif on their ceremonial metalwork. In many ancient cultures, butterflies and moths represent death or the spirit of ancestors. Knowing this, for what kind of ceremony do you think this nariguera might have been worn?
The Moche created nose ornaments embellished with many different animals and insects. If you were to wear a nose ornament this large, what creatures would you want to decorate your nariguera and why?
Engage with the Snite Museum of Art by exploring their collection through background information and reflection questions. For more information on the collections, please visit the Snite Museum of Art website.