Lot 263
  • 263

A fine and important Baule mask

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the delicately carved hollow oval mask with flange encircling the face, an elegant tapering chin with pursed mouth beneath a broad naturalistic nose and large pierced half-closed eyes highlighted by a double decorative zigzag motif forming the eyebrows, all beneath a domed brow sloping up to support a standing bird at the crown with fine decoration on the wings and tail; fine and varied encrusted black brown patina.


Pierre Meauzé, Paris
Edith Hafter, Zurich
Carlo Monzino Collection


Zurich, Kunsthaus, 1970
Essen, Villa Hügel, Afrikanische Kunstwerke: Kulturen am Niger, March 25 - June 13, 1971
New York, The Center for African Art, African Aesthetics: The Carlo Monzino Collection, May 7 - September 7, 1986


Meauzé 1967: 67
Holas 1969: number 49
Leuzinger 1971: number G2
Leuzinger 1977: number 34
Vogel 1986: 50, number 45; 214, number 45

Catalogue Note

This fine Baule mblo mask has become an iconic symbol of the Monzino Collection, featured on the cover of the 1986 catalog.  As Vogel (1986: 51) notes, 'both sumptuous and austere, this beautiful mask crystalizes the best of Baule art. The fine large eyes and tighly pursed lips have a rigor that eschews both senitmentality and excess..The lovingly preserved surface, with its soft sheen and rich color, gives the smoothly turning planes a sensuous quality. Masks that were prized - as this one clearly was - were stored in houses, often in specially made cloth bags suspended from a peg on the wall. The distance from the ground protected the mask from termites, the bag protected it from dirt and dust, and the residents of the house protected it from thieves.'

This mask would have appeared along with other portrait masks, worn by dancers wearing beautiful cloth, carrying flywhisks and other ornaments. Portrait masks appear one by one on the day of a gbagba performance along with their human double for they represent prominent members of the village. These masks can be identified by their facial features and by their scarification-- note the unusual marking on this mask around the eyes. As they appear frequently at puclic performances over many decades, everyone knows whom they portray.

The appearance of an mblo portrait is also an opportunity for dancers to display their great skill. Indeed, dances that feature mblo masks are always 'woman's' dances, so called because women may participate, but also because the style of dances is considered very feminine and graceful (Vogel 1997:166).

The bird at the top of this mask has been referred to as 'allegorical' (Holas 1969: 140), 'a toucan' (Meauze 1967: 66), but Vogel (1986:51) believes it to be a weaverbird, much admired by the Baule for its industry, beauty and social habits-- they nest in great numbers in a single tree resembling a village.