This figurine clearly symbolizes the Mayan belief in the essential balance of dual powers that allows the universe to function. Here an old man, symbolizing a god associated with the sun, daylight, and life, embraces a young woman, representing the moon goddess, night, and death. The piece also functions as a whistle, and it is thought that these whistles were played at funeral ceremonies, as such pieces were buried with the dead to aid in their transition to another level of existence.
Artist Maya, Precolumbian
  • Embracing Couple
Date between 700 and 900
Medium terracotta and pigment
Dimensions Overall: 9 7/8 × 3 3/4 × 4 1/4 inches (25.1 × 9.5 × 10.8 cm)
Credit Line Founders Society Purchase, Katherine Margaret Kay Bequest Fund and New Endowment Fund
Accession Number 77.49
Department Africa, Oceania & Indigenous Americas
On View Native American S131, Level 1 (see map)
Edward H. Merrin.
1977-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Bulletin of the DIA 56, no. 5 (1978): 260, fig. 2 (ill.).

“Family Art Game.” DIA Advertising Supplement, Detroit News, April 14, 1985, p. 11 (ill.).

100 Masterworks from the Detroit Institute of Arts. New York, 1985, pp. 82-83 (ill.).

Johnson, W. W. "New light on the mysteries of the Maya." Smithsonian 17, no. 2 (May 1986): 42 (ill.).

“Family Art Game.” DIA Advertising Supplement, Detroit Free Press, May 18, 1986, p. 16 (ill.).

Stuart, Gene S. America's Ancient Cities. Washington, DC, 1988, p. 138 (color ill.).

Taube, K. "A ritual clown of the Early Classic Maya court." Bulletin of the DIA 66, no. 4 (1991): 18-29, fig. 3 (ill.).