Lot 10
  • 10

Djenné Terracotta Male and Female Couple, Circa 13th - 15th Century, Mali

300,000 - 500,000 USD
790,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • terracotta
  • Height: 9¾ in (25 cm)


Hubert Goldet, Paris
Lance and Roberta Entwistle, London, acquired by 1978
Joseph Casier, Izegem, Belgium, acquired from the above
Lance and Roberta Entwistle, London, acquired from the above
Daniel and Marian Malcolm, Tenafly, New Jersey, acquired from the above on July 15, 1996


Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde, Munich, Afrikanische Keramik: Traditionelle Handwerkskunst südlich der Sahara, December 10, 1984 - May 12, 1985; additional venue:
Hetjens-Museum, Deutsches Keramikmuseum, Düsseldorf, June 16 - September 15, 1985
Centre Culturel Français, Rome, Terra d'Archeologia: la grande scultura in terracotta del Mali, May 1990
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Echoing Images: Couples in African Sculpture, February 10- September 5, 2004


Lance and Roberta Entwistle (adv.), New Year's Card, January, 1979
Lance and Roberta Entwistle (adv.), African Arts, vol. XII, no. 2, February 1979, back cover  
Werner Gillon, Collecting African Art, London, 1979, p. 23, pl. IV and back cover
Arnulf Stössel, Afrikanische Keramik: Traditionelle Handwerskunst südlich der Sahara, Munich, 1984, pp. 164 and 194, cat. 19, pl. 4 
Jacques Kerchache, Jean-Louis Paudrat and Lucien Stéphan, L'Art africain, Paris, 1988, p. 58, fig. 14
Jacques Kerchache, Jean-Louis Paudrat and Lucien Stéphan, Art of Africa, Paris and New York, 1988, p. 58, fig. 14
Jacques Kerchache, Jean-Louis Paudrat and Lucien Stéphan, Die kunst des Schwarzen Afrika, Freiburg, 1989, p. 56, fig. 14
Bernardo Bernardi and Bernard de Grunne, Terra d'Africa, Terra d'Archeologia: la grande scultura in terracotta del Mali, Rome, 1990, p. 49, fig. 17
Alissa LaGamma, Echoing Images: Couples in African Sculpture, New York, 2004, p. 8, pl. 1 
No author listed, "Echoing Images: Couples in African Sculpture," Art Tribal, no. 05, Spring/Summer 2004, p. 40
Ivan Bargna, L'arte africana, la grande storia dell'arte, Florence, 2006, p. 224, cat. 15
Bernard de Grunne, Djenné-Jeno: 1000 Years of Terracotta Statuary in Mali, Brussels, 2014, p. 291, pl. 213
Heinrich Schweizer, Visions of Grace: 100 Masterpieces from the Collection of Daniel and Marian Malcolm, Milan, 2014, p. 21, cat. 2

Catalogue Note

Published and exhibited countless times, most recently in Bernard de Grunne’s important 2014 monograph Djenné-Jeno: 1000 Years of Terracotta Statuary in Mali, the Malcolm Djenné Couple is one of the most famous examples of ancient terracotta sculpture from Mali. The birth of this enigmatic premodern culture coincided with the rise of Djenné-Jeno, “one of the world’s major ancient urban civilizations” (Grunne 2014: 11). Schweizer (2014: 20) explains: “Early Arab writers such as El Bekri (died 1094) and Edrîsî (died 1164) tell us about two large empires, Ghana (ca. 300–1076) and Mali (ca. 1200–1500), which controlled large parts of Western Africa. While their leadership were followers of Islam, traditional religion continued to be practiced for centuries. One of the centers of the traditional religion was the old town of Djenné, Djenné-Jeno, which today houses one of the largest mosques in the Sudanese building style, erected in the thirteenth century.”

Schweizer (loc. cit.) continues: “The oldest known city in sub-Saharan Africa, Djenné-Jeno was situated on an island in the Niger Delta of present-day Mali and emerged between the ninth and fourteenth centuries as the center of trans-Saharan trade. An extraordinary body of terracotta statuary testifies to a highly sophisticated urban society that encompassed more than ten thousand people. As most of the works were unearthed by the local population and not according to scientific standards, little site-specific archaeological data is available regarding their creators’ religious beliefs and culture. Most of the information we have today is based on the analysis of individual sculptures and their comparison to larger bodies of related works, which allow us to identify certain patterns and venture interpretations.”

Most recently, Bernard de Grunne (2014: 45-53) as well as Marc Ghysels and Anne-Marie Bouttiaux (2015: 88-123) have shown evidence to the effect that Djenné terracotta sculptures might be representations of mythological culture heroes. With reference to the Malcolm couple, Schweizer (loc. cit.) suggests: “The male and female couple from the Malcolm Collection features a recurrent iconographic theme of [Djenné] art in a highly unusual composition. Only one other [complete] example is known, previously in the collection of Baudouin de Grunne, Wezembeek-Oppem [a fragmentary male figure with closely related features and corresponding posture hints to the previous existence of a third sculpture by the same artist featuring the same two-figure iconography. For images of all three works see Grunne 2014: p. 226, figs. 48 and 49; pls. 212-213].  The male is seated behind the female and rests his hands on her shoulders. The kneeling female figure, with her hands on her knees, has small protruding breasts and a swollen abdomen, indicating pregnancy and fertility. Both figures are identified as members of the aristocratic class, wearing embroidered skirts and multiple bracelets and anklets. Additionally, the woman displays a large beaded collar with strands draping down between her breasts, and the male wears bands around his upper arms and a necklace with a large five-edged pendant, presumably representing a quartzite believed to have supernatural powers. Their hairstyles feature shaved heads, the male with a long strand of hair on top tied into a bun, and a stately beard along his jawline.

“By virtue of their jewelry the two figures can be identified as members of the wealthy elite class of Djenné-Jeno society. They may represent historic or mythic characters, political or spiritual leaders, or dynastic or primordial ancestors. The heads of both figures are turned upward as if their gazes are attracted by an invisible object hovering in front of them. The multiple lines around their protuberant eyes, a recurrent stylistic feature in Djennenke art, could indicate scarification marks or an iconographic meaning. Described as ‘multiple eyelids,’ they could indicate supernatural foresight or state of mind.”