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The striking showcase for The Merrin Gallery in New York presents viewers with a peculiar sculpture. At first glance it looks like a primitive painted terracotta sculpture. However, when you examine it closely and listen to owner Linda Schildkrau, you soon understand that there is actual human skin hanging over a terracotta body.

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The dried human flesh is between 2,500-3,200 years old and comes from a human sacrifice, whose life was given to honor the Mesoamerican god Xipe Totec. The human sacrifice was often a prisoner of war and used to personify both Xipe Totec and the connection between death and resurrection. For forty days the prisoner was treated like a god before he was executed and flayed as soon as the heart was ritually removed from his still warm body.

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The next step involved sewing the skin onto a living priest who would wear it for twenty days while he wandered about, begging for charity with the victim's hands dangling from his wrists like two wet mittens.

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The sculpture with the dried human flesh was previously owned by the American collector Jay C. Leff, who became the youngest bank director in the United States in 1947. Despite his opulence, the bank director's extensive collection of 4,000 items was mainly made up by primitive pieces from Africa, Oceania and the Americas.

Leff purchased the Xipe Totect sculpture in 1966. He lent the sculpture along with several of his pre-Columbian artifacts to the landmark exhibition, Ancient Art from Latin America from the Jay C. Leff Collection at the Brooklyn Museum, later that same year.

So, what does such a cadaver cost you might ask?

The answer is $2,200,000.

 

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