Mexico, 700-900. Terracotta, pigment. Click image to enlarge.
Old men embracing or attempting to seduce young women were a common subject of classic period Maya artists. Sometimes the woman depicted is the Moon Goddess, and the man her aged spouse, the Sun God. Sometimes it is a sexual encounter between mortals. Here, a small, wizened man gazes at a taller, voluptuous young woman as he lifts her skirt above the knee. She faces away from him, her raised arm and hand in a midway gesture that invites the viewer to speculate about their relationship. Will the gesture end in an affectionate caress or a sharp slap across the geezer’s wrinkled face? In other versions of this popular “embracing couple” sculpture, the woman’s hand gently touches the elder’s cheek as she returns his gaze. The gifted sculptor has brilliantly designed and staged the characters, allowing us to imagine the narrative. There is also an audio element: most of the vessel is hollow and can be used as a whistle or a musical instrument for ritual and pleasure.

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