Lot 67
  • 67

Yoruba Scepter for a Shango Devotee, Nigeria

250,000 - 350,000 USD
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  • wood
  • Height: 20 5/8 in (52.4 cm)


Samir Borro, Abidjan
Walter Kaiser, Stuttgart, acquired from the above in the 1960s
Private Collection, Italy, acquired from the above
Patricia Withofs, London
Hubert Goldet, Paris, acquired from the above
Ricqlès, Paris, Collection Hubert Goldet, June 30 - July 1, 2001, lot 170
Myron Kunin, Minneapolis, acquired at the above auction


Forte di Belvedere, Florence, La grande scultura dell'Africa Nera, July 15 - October 29, 1989
Musée Dapper, Paris, Le grand héritage: sculptures de l'Afrique noire, May 21 - September 15, 1992
Hamline University Art Galleries, Saint Paul, Icons of Perfection: Figurative Sculpture from Africa,  December 2, 2005 - February 11, 2006


Ezio Bassani, La grande scultura dell'Africa Nera, Florence, 1989, pp. 134 and 244, cat. 59
Ezio Bassani, Le grand héritage: sculptures de l'Afrique noire, Paris, 1992, p. 162
Jean-Baptiste Bacquart, The Tribal Arts of Africa, New York, 1998, p. 100, fig. 1
Frank Herreman, Icons of Perfection: Figurative Sculpture from Africa, Saint Paul, 2006, pp. 2 & 55, fig. 38
Frank Herreman, "Icons of Perfection: Some Thoughts on the Relationship between Aesthetics and Function in African Sculpture", Tribal Art, Vol. X, No. 3, Spring 2006, p. 96, fig. 12


Good condition for an object of this type and age. Age cracks, including to proper right side of body behind the arm, extending into platform on which the figure stands; and to the back of the head. Old losses to proper right ear, and at bottom of staff handle. Marks, nicks, scratches, and abrasions consistent with age and handling. Surface is extensively rubbed from a long period of use in situ. Exceptionally fine glossy honey-brown patina with crusty remains of ritually-applied clay on the body and blue pigment in the headdress.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

A tour-de-force of Yoruba sculpture, the present lot was once owned by a priestess of the cult of Shango (aka Sango). Schweizer (2014: 106-108) explains: “In Yoruba spiritual belief, orun, the otherworld, was inhabited by orisa (gods), ara orun (ancestors), and various other spirit beings (oro, iwin, ajogun, and egbe). The Yoruba pantheon of orisa was composed of deified ancestors and/or personified forces of nature. Based on their different personalities, one could distinguish ‘cool and temperate’ gods (orisa funfun), which were gentle, calm, and reflective, from the ‘hot and temperamental gods (orisa gbigbone), which were harsh, aggressive, and quick-tempered. One of the ‘hot and temperamental’ gods (orisa gbigbone) that were harsh, aggressive, and quick-tempered is Sango, who was according to mythology the king (oba) of the Oyo Empire during his lifetime and deified after his death as the god of thunder. The cult of Sango was widespread through Yorubaland, and numerous objects were made for his shrines and celebratory rituals. Priestesses of Sango danced with a dance wand (ose sango), demonstrating devotion to their lord. The overall architecture of ose sango is fairly consistent, comprising a handle at the bottom, a female figure embodying the Sango priestess in the center, and a V-shaped element representing a double-axe or thunderbolts on top.”

Of over-size proportions and imbued with an animation of the body rarely seen in African sculpture, the Kunin ose sango ranks among the finest Yoruba sculptures known. Its iconography features an eccentric detail: the tasseled item carried over the figure’s proper left shoulder. In his discussion of another ose sango with the same feature, Pemberton (in Holcombe 1982: 74) explains: “Over her left shoulder (the left is the side of ritual significance for the Yoruba) the devotee carries a dance vestment. The large medallion with strands of cowrie shells hanging from it may be an emblem of office, such as that of the Arole, the leader of female Shango worshippers in a community. Henry and Margaret Drewal have seen similar decorative vestments on two other Shango dance wands from the Egbado area. They suggest that the cowrie vestment may be associated with Bayanni, an orisha worshipped solely among the Egbado, who assert that Bayanni is the younger brother of Shango.”