DJENNE, FEMALE FIGURE, MALI
A.D. 1000-1400; Terracotta; Without stand: 15" x 12" x 17 1/2"; Provenance: James Willis, San Francisco; Allan Stone Collection, New York (acquired from the above in April 1999); Condition note: Testing report online
Estimate: $5,000 - $10,000
This terracotta sculpture comes from a site called Jenne-jeno, the oldest known city in sub-Saharan Africa, in the Inland Niger Delta region of present-day Mali. Jenne-jeno flourished in the ninth century A.D., but declined and was abandoned by 1400. Items of cast brass and forged iron, clay vessels, and figures like this one survive. They testify to what scholars contend was a richly varied and highly sophisticated urban society. Recovered terracotta figures are frequently quite detailed with jewelry, clothing, and body ornaments such as the parallel columns of bumps and circles on the back of this work. Sometimes these bumps cover the entire body and seem to represent the pustules of some dreadful illness. Sculptures like this one may represent ancestors or mythic characters or might have served as guardians. Here, the figure's attitude of introspection resembles mourning customs still practiced by many cultures in sub-Saharan Africa.
Newton, Douglas; Jones, Julie; Mullin Vogel, Susan; and Schaffer, Anne-Louise. Notable Acquisitions, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1981–1982, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art pp. 65–68.