Highlights from the Gillett G. Griffin Bequest

Gillett G. Griffin, curator of Pre-Columbian and Native American art, emeritus, bequeathed more than 3,500 works of art to the Princeton University Art Museum in 2016. More than 2,400 are ancient American objects, which compose the majority of Princeton’s renowned collections in this area. The remaining works in the bequest span the globe and time, ranging from works of Asian and African art to works on paper—and include stone tools made by very early humans, which extend the chronological scope of the Museum’s holdings by tens of thousands of years.

On the second anniversary of his death, his presence is still felt warmly and indelibly within the Museum. This series of stories illustrates the breadth of this extraordinary gift, as well as Gillett’s keen aesthetic eye, through an in-depth look at works from several areas of the collection. 

Mochica, Early Intermediate (Late Moche, Phase V): Vessel in the form of a notable wearing a turban, A.D. 500–800. Ceramic, molded, carved and burnished with cream and red slip. Bequest of Gillett G. Griffin (2016-1073).The vividly realistic features and expression of this mold-made Moche vessel are startling. Created as jars or bottles, so-called portrait vessels reached an unprecedented level of naturalism, culminating among the Mochica along the north coast of Peru between A.D. 500 and 800. They depict what many scholars have argued were specific individuals. Researchers have named figures such as this example "Cut Lip" because of the distinctive scar at the left portion of his upper lip. His purported portrait occurs on numerous vessels, apparently at various stages of life from boyhood through his mid-thirties. More recently, however, other specialists have noted subtle variations in the form and location of scars on "Cut Lip" portraits, leading them to promote the alternative interpretation that such marks reflect a practice of ritual scarification. Instead of depicting specific historical individuals, then, such "portrait heads" may instead represent idealized types, indicating social rank, specialization, or ethnicity.


Read more about the bequest
Remembering Gillett Griffin (1928–2016)
Gillett Griffin, Collector, Curator, and Scholar, Dies at 87