"and over all the taut blue sky of Mexico where the future of man stood at dress rehearsal daily and the figure of death in his paper skull and suit of painted bones strode up and back before the footlights in high declamation"
Catrina calaca sculpture from Pátzcuaro, México
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeCatrina calaca sculpture from Pátzcuaro, México - Credit: Dominik
Danse Macabre, by Hans Holbein the Younger (16th century)
Public DomainDanse Macabre, by Hans Holbein the Younger (16th century) - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In this highly evocative image McCarthy appears to combine the Medieval depiction of Death in the Danse Macabre with the Mexican tradition of the calaca.

Known in Spanish as la Danza de la Muerte, the dance-with-death allegory emerged in Medieval Europe around the time of the Black Death to remind people of the universality and inevitability of death. The Danse Macabre was often depicted in short verse dialogue between Death and his victims. Death in the form of a skeleton is shown summoning his chosen victims to dance while the summoned moan about their impending deaths.

During the Mexican Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations, one of the traditions is the use of calacas (skeletons) as decoration, including papier-mâché skull masks and small figurines. Skeleton suits are also popularly worn.

 

Dia de los muertes calaca costume
Creative Commons AttributionDia de los muertes calaca costume - Credit: Christine Zenino
Danse Macabre, by Bernt Notke (15th century)
Public DomainDanse Macabre, by Bernt Notke (15th century) - Credit: Wikimedia Commons