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Seated Male Figure with Lance

16th–20th century
Mali, Bougouni or Dioila region
Bamana peoples
H. 35 3/8 x W. 9 x D. 10 3/8in. (89.9 x 22.9 x 26.4cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of The Kronos Collections, in honor of Martin Lerner, 1983
Accession Number:
1983.600a, b
  • Description

    Bamana figures such as this were the focal point of celebrations of the "Jo" and "Gwan" initiation societies (associations of men and women) in several villages in southern Mali. This work depicts an idealized male leader that would have been the companion to a similarly attired mother and child representation. For annual rituals, a community's collection of a series of such works were removed from shrines, cleaned and oiled, decorated with cloth and beads, and displayed in the village square as a group. The mother and child and her male counterpart were placed in central positions of honor, distinguished by attributes of their extraordinary physical and supernatural powers.

    This figure is depicted wearing a hunter's hat adorned with animal horns and amulets. The amulets serve to heighten his powers of perception and in doing so augment his abilities to find game. He holds a lance considered a "weapon of distinction." Such arms, relics of heroic ancestors, were handed down from father to son at the time of initiation. The knife worn on his upper arm is also associated with hunting and is of the type frequently seen on older examples of Bamana sculpture, including terracottas dating as far back as the twelfth century. The heavily lidded eyes, closed mouth, and arms held close to the body suggest a sense of calm and self-possession, accentuating the stature and respect commanded by the figure.

  • Provenance

    John and Evelyn Kossak (Kronos Collections), Westport, CT, until 1983

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History