100 BC - 250 AD
Height : 47.3 cm – Lengh : 30.4 cm – Depth : 15.9 cm
Height : 52 cm – Lengh : 28.8 cm - Depth : 18.7 cm
Brown hollow clay with red-white slip, with polychrome decorations and traces of manganese
Former collection Yvon Collet since 1967
Collection Galerie Mermoz since 2019
This couple is a magnificent example of the ceramics of Western Mexico. It comes from the Nayarit region and more particularly, the area where the archaeological site of Ixtlan del Rio is located, which gave its name to one of the styles listed in this region. The realism of the modeling, the numerous details underlined by a beautiful polychromy and the expression that animates these characters testify to the talent of the local craftsmen, who liked to work the clay and illustrate the life of their contemporaries with an undeniable creativity.
Beyond their great originality, the value of these effigies lies in their symbolic and spiritual significance. This is attested to by the fact that these ceramics were found at the bottom of the deep well tombs typical of the region, where they undoubtedly had the noble task of accompanying the deceased on the path to the afterlife and honoring the ancestors.
Judging by the dress and adornment of the figures, and the frequency of such figures in the Nayarit, it could be the commemoration of a marriage ceremony involving dignitaries. In traditional Mesoamerican societies, the union between a man and a woman was one of the most important stages of life, from which the bride and groom changed social category and could start a family. Like any event marking a transition, this matrimonial union was the object of rites of passage, probably lasting several days, including vigils, processions and the presentation of the spouses. The figurines of couples placed in the tombs could attest that the deceased performed these rites during their earthly life.
Represented standing, the man and woman share the same physiognomy. Their bodies are short and their ribcages square, a compact plasticity that contrasts sharply with the tall, narrow head, almost as large as the bust and legs. The broad, bony shoulders extend far to both sides of the neck. They lead to short, wiry, tubular arms, themselves ending in small, well-detailed hands with slender fingers and beige-painted nails. The woman's torso is naked. Her spread breasts are generous, with protruding nipples, perhaps as a way of emphasizing her femininity and nurturing function, and her arms wear tight bicep bracelets with small beads. The man's torso is dressed in a shirt, covering the arms, decorated with checks, themselves decorated with scrolls, spirals and staircases, painted in brick red, beige and yellow-orange. The back of each of the figures is fairly flat, but the curve of the spine and the humps of the buttocks, are far apart due to the width of the rib cage.
The legs are particularly short and fitted with massive feet, somewhat elephantine in appearance, accentuated by the deep grooves made in the clay to distinguish the toes and by the pointed heels, exaggeratedly stretched backwards, perhaps to ensure the work's support.
The woman's legs are covered by a long-squared skirt decorated with various patterns that match those visible on the man's shirt, a detail that cleverly emphasizes their complementarity. On the man, they are visible and very spread out. Note: the man wears a large pair of breeches with a protruding and hanging element at the crotch.
The faces, like the bodies, are similar. Here again we find the signature of the Nayarit artists who were fond of singular plastic, accentuating certain aspects of the human body and reducing others at the same time. Oval-shaped, these expressive faces bear the remains of black paint, a sign that these two figures belonged to the local elite. The high and narrow shape of the skull, adorned with a large twisted braid in the case of the woman, and hidden under a high conical hat with fringe in the case of the man, indicates a ritual deformation.This common practice in Mesoamerica goes back to very ancient times and would concern the important members of the clans who, by the elongated aspect of their head, distinguished themselves from the rest of the community. According to the researchers, this shape also had a symbolic meaning, linked to the ear of corn, germination and beyond that fertility and abundance, making the dignitaries the guarantors of the survival of their village.
Note that the man's hat has a band on the fringe, with two paws in the air on either side, suggesting that they are dog paws, an element related to the shaman. Three pendants are also visible at the back of the neck, below a hole that served as a vent hole, allowing water vapor to escape during the firing process. In women, this hole is located at the top of the skull.