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Image Encounters

Image Encounters
Moche Murals and Archaeo Art History

The first comprehensive study of Moche mural art, this landmark book develops a methodology of archaeo art history to examine image making and visual experience in an era of ancient Peruvian history before the use of writing.

Series: Recovering Languages and Literacies of the Americas

February 2022
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240 pages | 8.5 x 11 | 185 color photos and illustrations, 34 b&w photos and illustrations, 3 maps |

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.

  • Preface
  • Introduction: Image Encounters
  • Chapter 1. Mural Origins and Coastal Corporealities
  • Chapter 2. Formulating Traditions: Ancestral Divinities, Norcosteño Design, and the Aesthetics of Replication in Moche Mural Art (200–650 CE)
  • Chapter 3. Siting Narratives: Moche Mural Painting and the Condensation of a Medium (650–850 CE)
  • Chapter 4. Archaeo-Iconology: An Archaeology of Image Experience and Response
  • Conclusions. On the Huaca
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Lisa Trever is the Lisa and Bernard Selz Associate Professor in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology at Columbia University. She is the author of The Archaeology of Mural Painting at Pañamarca, Peru and coeditor of El arte antes de la historia: Para una historia del arte andino antiguo.


“Moche murals are among the most spectacular monumental works known from the ancient Americas, yet until now they have been woefully understudied. Based on a thorough and thoughtful examination of the corpus, including newly revealed mural paintings and reliefs, Trever’s study integrates a variety of approaches to reveal new understandings of this aspect of ancient Andean art and culture.Trever’s focus on the context of the works has yielded impressive, at times startling, new discoveries of the multisensorial ritual engagements with the paintings in the middle of the first millennium AD. Her findings quite simply change the way we think of image making, both in the past, and now. Bridging art history and archaeology, this volume is essential reading for both disciplines, as well as allied fields of architectural history and the history of religion.  ”
Joanne Pillsbury, Andrall E. Pearson Curator of Ancient American Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, editor of Past Presented: Archaeological Illustration and the Ancient Americas

Image Encounters is a joy to read. It heralds a new era in our understanding of ancient South America in several ways: through the innovative use of multimodal methods; through a novel contextual analysis that situates the Moche broadly and deeply in time and space; and through a firm and authoritative rejection of reading the Indigenous past through a colonial lens. This book promises to be a discipline-changing work for not only South Americanists but also scholars of Mesoamerica and Native North America.”
Mary Weismantel, Northwestern University, author of Playing with Things: Engaglng the Moche Sex Pots

Image Encounters gives birth to what the author calls archaeo art history, a well-balanced perspective in which she approaches the best practices of two fields of study. Using a splendid and straightforward narrative, the book explores the foundations and trajectories of mural art in ancient Andean monumental architecture. Writing with the soul of an artist and the heart of an archaeologist, Trever chronicles the transition to the mural paintings that covered Pañamarca and other contemporaneous monuments.”
Gabriel Prieto, University of Florida, coeditor of Maritime Communities of the Ancient Andes

Image Encounters is a magisterial account of mural art on the coast of Peru. Trever makes a compelling case that a capacious understanding of mural art—encompassing painting, modeled clay, petroglyphs, and graffiti—best allows us to understand a millennia-long coastal tradition in many ways distinct from the more familiar highland Andean tradition that has often shaped our understanding of coastal art.”
Claudia Brittenham, University of Chicago, author of The Murals of Cacaxtla: The Power of Painting in Ancient Central Mexico