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L. Pescador, 1995

 

 

 

   

 

Dogon, ritual panel, Tintam sub-style

(Mali) – wood – 91 cm

XV-XVII century c.

Private collection, Brescia

 

Provenance:

Charles Ratton collection – Parigi

Lorna Marshall collection – Cambridge, MA

Norman  H. Hurst collection – Cambridge, MA

Dalton-Somaré collection – Milan

 

Exhibitions:

Designs for living, Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 1984

Sculture Africane in collezioni private italiane, Dalton Somaré gallery, Milan, 2004

 

Publications:

M. Adams, Symbolic communications in African Art, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1984, p. 22-24

Vittorio Carini, A Hidden Heritage – Sculture africane in collezioni private italiane, Milano, 2004, fig. 1

Ivan Bargna, L’arte africana, Il sole 24ore, Book series “La grande storia dell’arte”, vol. n. 19, E-education.it editor, Florence 2006, p. 67, fig. 25 

 

Piece archived at Yale University Art Gallery, by Guy van Rijn.

Archive number 0015056-01

 

This ancient ritual Dogon panel, with its obvious signs of use, encrusted patina and significant deposits, comes from the ‘Plateau of Badiagara’ in the central North of Mali. The piece can be classified in the Tintam sub-style category.

Although some Dogon art experts assume it to have been used for funerary rituals, it was most likely a part of a container, either an aduno koro (ark of the world) or a vageu bana chest (the ancestors’ plate).

A horse’s head and tail usually conclude each end of the lids of these chests, which were made specifically to contain the meat of the sheep and goats sacrificed on family altars during the goru ritual, practiced every year at winter solstice. They were commonly kept in the house of the head of lineage, jinna.

Furthermore, it has been hypothesized that various metaphors related to the Nommo myth, the Dogon’s primordial creature, could be linked to these chests.

 

In the centre of the panel is a horizontal component from which a hand is carved at either end, a feature H. Leloup defines as rare and unusual.

Any symbolic significance is unknown. This element, however, forms a visual contrast between the two groups of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures carved along the sides.

This contrast clearly demonstrates the Dogon sculptors’ preference for prominent horizontal and vertical elements and distinct separations between the different levels of figures and compositions.

Despite the symmetrical composition of the panel, a  mechanical rigidness is avoided through small variations in the angle of the pose in human figures and crocodiles.

The human figures are androgynous, in accordance with the Dogon myth that ancestors are immortal given   their ability to self-reproduce. Both arms of each figure are raised in a gesture which is usually associated with  the Dogon image of guarding sacred places, but which has since had various other interpretations. The series of figures conclude at both ends with the representation of two lizards/crocodiles, animals which, as the myth goes, cooperated with the ancestors in the civilisation of the world.

The panel is framed by a raised edge containing a double zig-zagging line carved in high relief. The vibrating effect of  this pattern can perhaps be symbolically interpretable as an allegorical representation of rain and water flowing through cracks in dry earth.

 

The panel is marked by three horizontal bands of red-ochre pigment. This rare polychrome is also found on the horse’s head, (fragment ark, sec. XV-XVII), published in l’art africain (J. Kerchache and others, 1988, pages 65, fig. 21), which leaves us with the possibility of a link between the two objects.

 

 

Essential Bibliography

 

H. Leloup, Statuaire Dogon, Editions Amez, Strasbourg, 1994;

J. Kerchache, J.L. Paudrat, L. Stephane, L’Art Africain, Ed Mazenod, 1988.