In the Bamileke kingdoms, political and spiritual power was centralized in the person of the fon (king) who resided in a lavish palace situated in the center of his kingdom. Grand architecture demonstrated the welfare of the kingdom, and served as the focal point of political life, spiritual practice, and economic trade. The facades of these palaces were adorned with opulent sculptural programs, and within the palace the fon kept a royal treasury of objects of regalia, symbolizing and affirming his authority. Subjects were drawn from a pantheon of symbolic narratives relating to the royal dynasty and its powers.
The present stool from the Malcolm collection is a rare example of an object of court regalia from such a treasury, and features an anthro-zoomorphic figure, incorporating simian, human, and other animal characteristics including large forward-pointed ears. Schweizer (2014: 135): notes that the exact identity of the figure supporting the Malcolm stool “is as yet undetermined. The body is overall humanoid, with hands and feet, male primary sex organs, and a human nose. However the head also bears unambiguously zoomorphic features including large pointy ears like those of a hyena and a snout-like mouth.” Crouching under the disk-shaped seat of the stool, the figure is compressed like a spring under the weight of the sitter, and poised to burst upwards. Such a position has been associated with the icon of a frog, a symbol of fertility (Schweizer loc. cit.; Anderson and Kraemer 1989: 135). The master sculptor has charged this figure with a remarkable kinetic energy, creating a matrix of interrelated geometric forms centered upon a dramatically lengthened V-shape formed by the torso and thighs of the figure. Knees and elbows frame the wildly animated facial features, with the whole composition forming a vigorous, vibrating image of strength, calling upon attributes of the natural world to affirm the greatness of its royal owner.
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