Bottle, Skeletal Couple with Child, 3rd–7th century
Ceramic; 6 7/8 x 5 5/8 x 6 3/8 in. (17.5 x 14.3 x 16.2 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1967 (1978.412.196)
Moche ceramic vessels were made in specialized workshops where every step of ceramic production was undertaken in situ, from the preparation of clays to the firing process. Vessels were made with two-piece molds, facilitating the production of multiples. After the molding process, potters carefully added handles, spouts, and small details, in this case the incised ribs and modeled arms. Skeletal individuals are often depicted in Moche ceramics, probably symbolizing the interplay and complementarity between life and death. It has been suggested that in Moche religion, a transitory stage between life and death is expressed by the existence of transitional beings such as simian individuals and the animated deceased. In painted or sculpted vessels, animated skeletons dance, embrace, play music with flutes and rattles, carry funerary offerings, or engage in sexual activities. This embracing skeletal couple with child perhaps illustrates death as a necessary stage for the renewal of life.