Dogon, ritual panel,
(Mali) – wood – 91 cm
XV-XVII century c.
Private collection, Brescia
Charles Ratton collection – Parigi
Lorna Marshall collection – Cambridge, MA
Norman H. Hurst collection – Cambridge, MA
Dalton-Somaré collection – Milan
Designs for living,
Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge,
Africane in collezioni private italiane, Dalton Somaré gallery, Milan, 2004
M. Adams, Symbolic communications in African Art, Harvard University
Press, Cambridge, 1984, p. 22-24
Carini, A Hidden Heritage – Sculture africane in collezioni private
italiane, Milano, 2004, fig. 1
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.
Piece archived at Yale University Art Gallery, by Guy van Rijn.
Archive number 0015056-01
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
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).
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,
Furthermore, it has been hypothesized that various metaphors related to the
Nommo myth, the Dogon’s primordial creature, could be linked to these
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.
symbolic significance is unknown. This element, however, forms a visual
contrast between the two groups of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures
carved along the sides.
contrast clearly demonstrates the Dogon sculptors’ preference for prominent
horizontal and vertical elements and distinct separations between the
different levels of figures and compositions.
the symmetrical composition of the panel, a mechanical rigidness is avoided
through small variations in the angle of the pose in human figures and
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.
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.
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.
H. Leloup, Statuaire Dogon, Editions Amez, Strasbourg, 1994;
J. Kerchache, J.L. Paudrat, L. Stephane, L’Art Africain, Ed Mazenod,