Lot 19
  • 19

Lobi Pair of Male and Female Spirit Figures, Burkina Faso

100,000 - 150,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • wood
  • Height: 36 3/8 in (92.5 cm) and 37 3/4 in (96 cm)
Bùthìba Thílkõtína


Karl-Ferdinand Schaedler, Munich
Christie’s, New York, The Karl-Ferdinand Schädler Collection of African Art, November 13, 1985, lot 39
William A. McCarty-Cooper, Los Angeles, acquired at the above auction
Christie's, New York, Important Tribal Art and Antiquities from the Collection of William A. McCarty-Cooper, May 19, 1992, lot 98
Paul Tauchner, Munich, acquired at the above auction
Karl-Ferdinand Schaedler, Munich, acquired from the above


Villa Stuck, Munich, Götter Geister Ahnen. Afrikanische Skulpturen in deutschen Privatsammlungen/Gods, Spirits, Ancestors: African Sculpture from Private German Collections, October 28, 1992 - January 10, 1993
Museum für Völkerkunde, Vienna, Götter Geister Ahnen. Afrikanische Skulpturen in deutschen Privatsammlungen, March 23 - July 24, 1994
Palais Stutterheim, Kleine Galerie, Erlangen, Kunst der Elfenbeinküste/Art of Ivory Coast, 2001
Museum Lothar Fischer, Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz, Helmut Rieger - Afrika in mir. Ein Dialog mit aussereuropäischer Skulptur, January 20 - April 14, 2013


Karl-Ferdinand Schaedler, Africana, Munich, 1988, no. 26, pl. 99
Karl-Ferdinand Schaedler, Götter Geister Ahnen. Afrikanische Skulpturen in deutschen Privatsammlungen/Gods, Spirits, Ancestors: African Sculpture from Private German Collections, Munich, 1992, p. 67, no. 36
Karl-Ferdinand Schaedler, Kunst der Elfenbeinküste/Art of Ivory Coast, Munich, 2001, pl. 41
Karl-Ferdinand Schaedler, Encyclopedia of African Art and Culture, Munich, 2009, p. 375

Catalogue Note

This imposing pair of bùthìba thílkõtína spirit figures were “destined to receive the power of the ancestor protecting the domestic group.” (Bognolo, 2007, p. 12). The famous scholar  William Fagg discussed the figures at length on the occasion of their sale at Christie's in 1985: “it is not uncommon for [bùthìba thílkõtína] to be made in pairs and they are said to represent twin spirits rather than ‘married couples’ [because “bateba do not marry” (Meyer 1981: 54)]. The height of the figures bears no relation to their effectiveness against witches and sorcerers, but is determined by the wishes of the thil (spirit) upon whose suggestion (through the witch doctor) the [bùthìba] has been carved. More important than height is the facial expression which should convey anger, sorrow or pain to be effective.”

Schaedler (1992: 68) adds: “The pair probably comes from carvers who work at the edge of Lobi country, possibly in northeastern direction, with the Birifor or Dagari. Until now, only few figures of this type were known (as yet unpublished) and one smaller, similar pair of figures [previously in the McCarty-Cooper Collection, see below]. The flat, smoothly carved, arrow-shaped noses and the transitionless carved lips may be suggested as characteristics of these figures." Two distinctive features of this pair are the finely arched back and conical breasts of the female figure, which must have been executed by command of a thil, since, as the Lobi sculptor Onuoore Kambou of Pilinga (quoted in Meyer 1981, p. 54) notes: 'As long as the thila have nothing against it, we prefer to carve the flat breasts of an old woman to the rounded ones of young girls.'"

Only one other pair by the same workshop is known. Also previously in the McCarty-Cooper Collection (see Christie’s, New York, May 19, 1992, lot 100), this second pair is half the size (20½ and 21½ inches, respectively) of the offered pair. The smaller pair were featured prominently in the exhibition Echoing Images: Couples in African Sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. In her discussion of the smaller pair in the exhibition catalogue, Alisa LaGamma (2004: 20) notes: “In Burkina Faso, Lobi sculptors create male and female figural couples for use by professional diviners and for domestic shrines. In Lobi society, immaterial spiritual divinities, called thila, are responsible for overseeing a community’s well-being. In their efforts to maintain political, social, and moral order and provide protection against witchcraft and sorcery, thila communicate through diviners they have selected as intermediaries. When an individual consults a diviner concerning misfortunes inflicted by spirits, thila may direct that a shrine figure be carved as part of the remedy and provide the formal requirements for its appearance. The sculptural works created for residential or public shrines may suggest a physical form for the thila. Known as bateba [bùthìba], they afford an extended family a protective line of defense, preventing the entrance of evil into a household."

“The Lobi couples that serve diviners in their practice are relatively small in scale compared to the [smaller pair of figures], which was intended for placement on a residential shrine. Both man and woman are portrayed in the same bold, immovable stance, with facial expressions that purposefully intimidate in order to frighten away harmful forces. They stand with arms at their sides, hands resting on their thighs, and their strong powerful legs are supported by broad feet.” In the case of the offered pair, the intimidating appearance is enhanced by the lithe elongated limbs and the vigorous and purposeful posture.