Dan Mask, Côte d'Ivoire or Liberia
- Height: 10 in (25.5 cm)
Josef Mueller, Solothurn, acquired from the above in the early 1950s
Barbier-Mueller Museum, Geneva, by descent from the above
Merton D. Simpson, New York, acquired from the above
Edwin and Cherie Silver, Los Angeles, acquired from the above on November 15, 1979
The Museum for African Art, New York, Secrecy: African Art that Conceals and Reveals, February 13 - August 15, 1993, and travelling:
Bermuda National Gallery, Hamilton, September 11 - December 31, 1993
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, February 1 - March 27, 1994
The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, May 1 - July 24, 1994
Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, January 21 - April 9, 1995
Warren M. Robbins and Nancy Ingram Nooter, African Art in American Collections, Survey 1989, Washington, D.C., 1989, p. 159, no. 296
Mary H. Nooter, Secrecy: African Art That Conceals and Reveals, New York, 1993, p. 149, cat. no. 65
The present mask is of unusually large size, with impressive depth and volume, and extraordinary sculptural quality. Within the classification proposed by Eberhard Fischer and Hans Himmelheber, the Silver mask can be identified as a deangle type, a mask which "[...] has an oval face; a high forehead which is usually articulated with a central, vertical scar; narrow, slitted eyes which are often painted white [...] and a small mouth" (Fischer and Himmelheber, The Arts of the Dan in West Africa, 1984, p. 11 et. seq.).
The Silver mask previously belonged to Josef Mueller, a collector of modern paintings and an early promoter of non-Western art whose holdings would form the seed for the famed Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva. It was first published and exhibited in Mueller's hometown of Solothurn in 1957.
Stylistically the mask relates closely to another major Dan mask illustrated on the cover of Fischer and Himmelheber's definitive study of Dan art, Die Kunst der Dan, published in 1976 as a catalogue to the exhibition of the same name held at the Rietberg Museum in Zurich. The ridge bisecting the forehead - which represents a cosmetic scarification - flows downward into the ridge of the nose. This line is crossed by a lateral recessed field, once painted white, which circumscribes the narrow slitted eyes and flanges out into four points, also representative of scarification patterns seen on high-status Dan individuals. Beneath the nose, an elegantly stylized philtrum descends in a sweeping curve into a dramatically upturned upper lip. The ridge of the forehead is echoed in the voluminous faceted mouth, which retains most of its metal-applique teeth. The upward point of the top lip is mirrored below by a pointed chin, completing the extraordinarily elegant composition of this classic Dan face.
On the ritual function of such masks, Fischer and Himmelheber note that "Deangle, also known as bonagle, is a character whose names mean 'joking or laughing masquerade', indicating that this is a friendly, attractive spirit, one who makes men joyful when he appears" (ibid., p. 11).