Lot 158
  • 158

Dogon-Tintam Statue, Mali, Circa 15th Century

250,000 - 350,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Wood
  • Height: 53 in (134.5 cm)


Charles Ratton, Paris
Merton D. Simpson, New York, by 1976
Loudmer-Poulain, Paris, June 8, 1978, lot 242
Private Collection, acquired at the above auction
Loudmer-Poulain, Paris, December 4-6, 1980, lot 30, consigned by the above
Private Collection, acquired from the above auction via Merton D. Simpson, New York


Merton D. Simpson, advertisement, African Arts, Vol. X, No. 2, January 1977, p. 1


Very good condition overall, weathered and worn throughout, as is to be expected with an object of this great age and rare type. Marks, nicks, scratches, abrasions, small chips and losses in places throughout. Old losses around the cylindrical integrally-carved base including the entire front section, as visible in the catalogue illustration. Stable radiating age cracks throughout. Shallow cavity to the proper left outside thigh (knot in the wood). Some open age cracks with stable separation, including to the back of the head and proper right hip. Old loss to the edge of the proper left hand, as visible in the catalogue illustration. Small drill hole at back of integrally carved base from Carbon-14/radiocarbon dating sample. Lighter areas of even aged abrasion on the back of the hands, back of the head, and buttocks. Exceptionally fine aged patina of ritually applied material which has developed an attractive craquelure, with traces of ritually applied offerings of oil throughout. Sculpture fixed to old wood base.
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

The sculpture of the Dogon people of Mali is one of the most iconic traditions in African art history. Following the exhibitions "Art of the Dogon" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (1988) and "Die Kunst der Dogon" at the Museum Rietberg in Zurich (1995), the most comprehensive exhibition on Dogon art, "DOGON", was curated by Héléne Leloup in 2011 at the Musée du quai Branly in Paris. As Kate Ezra notes: "The Dogon live in one of West Africa's most spectacular landscapes. Their home is the Bandiagara Escarpment, a row of cliffs stretching 125 miles from southwest to northeast, parallel to the Niger River. The steep cliffs, some of them almost two thousand feet high, are cut in massive blocks separated by natural gorges, their sharp-edged faces punctuated by caves. The cliffs make access to Dogon villages difficult, and even though the center of Dogon country is only about 90 miles from the ancient commercial city of [Djenne], visitors to Dogon country since the beginning of the twentieth century have stressed the sense of isolation and remoteness that pervades the cliffs. According to oral traditions, the Dogon chose to settle on the cliffs precisely because of their inaccessibility" (Ezra, Art of the Dogon: Selections from the Lester Wunderman Collection, New York, 1988, p. 15).

The Dogon kept their sacred sculptures in caves in the cliff face, thereby preserving them for hundreds of years. Radiocarbon dating of wood sculptures from this region shows that a small number of the very earliest examples that survive in fact pre-date the arrival of the Dogon.  Stylistic evidence supports the assumption that these extremely rare works belong to a lost culture which heavily influenced Dogon style, and was likely associated with the ancient empires of the Djennenke or Soninke peoples. Art historians have traced a stylistic continuity between the art thought to originate from these pre-Dogon societies through to the diverse substyles of the Dogon, who arrived on the Bandiagara around the fifteenth century.

Several attributes of the present figure relate to the pre-Dogon cultures of the escarpment, most notably the female subject, depicted with a fleshy body, thick, muscular legs, and pendulous breasts. According to Leloup, "Djennenke sculptures are different from others on the Plateau in that they include female ancestor figures. [... They] seem to represent the female ancestor of a lineage, which leads us to believe that [the founders of Djenne] possibly were matriarchal in the past" (Leloup, ed., Dogon Statuary, Strasbourg, 1994, p. 126).

In the absence of written history, little is known about the precise meaning of Djennenke and early Dogon iconography. Assuming continuity in oral traditions between the present-day Dogon population and the Djennenke, their territorial predecessors, we can transfer our understanding of iconography within the spiritual belief system of the successors. A distinctive and frequently-rendered subject of the Dogon corpus is a single standing figure with raised arms, a posture usually interpreted as a gesture of prayer—an effort to link earth and heavens—and in particular, an appeal for rain in the arid environment of Dogon country. Leloup writes: "The statues with raised arms form part of a group of statuettes of different styles found all along the cliffs: Djennenke, classical Tellem, Niongom, Komakan, to which we can add the ones mentioned by Leiris, the 'raised arm' statuettes in the caves of Yougo [...]. These figures played a role in rainmaking rites performed by all the different inhabitants of the cliffs: a cultural adaptation by osmosis responding to the chronic lack of rain along the dry cliffs" (ibid., p. 127). This iconography is an archetype found in some of the earliest Djennenke figures—including the hermaphrodite figure in the Musée du quai Branly, the male bust in the Musée Dapper and the hermaphrodite in the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, de Young Museum (ibid., pls. 2, 7 and 16)—as well as in most of the (historically later) Dogon styles.

The stylistic features of this figure have convinced scholars to attribute the its origin to the east of the Bandiagara plateau, in a substyle coined Tintam by Hélène Leloup. She argues, "The choice of the Tintam name to characterize a style, rather than that of the region—Bondum—is partly due to the historical importance of this village, and also because its site, on a rocky outcrop at the end of a winding road […] has remained animist, whereas the other large village in the Region, De, has been Fulha since the 15th century" (ibid., p. 163).

The Tintam school of sculpture is distinguished for the originality of its style and iconography, which mixing the influences of the communities that have settled there. Here, "the large-scale muscular, realistic, energetic body" is representative of an indigenous component, while the chequered ventral scarification pattern reveals the influence of the Djennenke culture and the fan-shaped scarification at the corner of the eyes reveals the influence of the Songhay (Ibid., p. 164). The shorn coiffure, arranged in three sections on the forehead, is peculiar to the Tintam style. Two other figures display a very similar construction: one in the Barbier Mueller Museum, Geneva (fig. 1), and another in the Reitberg Museum, Zurich (fig.2).  Also related are a group of three other Tintam statue of related style: one the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, another in the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum für Völkerkunde of Cologne, and the one from the former Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, now at the Indiana University Art Museum in Bloomington (ibid., pls. 101, 102 et 103).

These six statues assume a similar posture, with raised arms, imploring their ancestors for that element on which life depends. Their nudity likely evokes "a man appealing to superior powers and, as he ought to before entering the altar's enclosure, the Hogon, Binu or Chief of the Ginna, had to remove all his clothes except for a belt" (ibid., pl. 101). The sensitivity of the features and the powerful balance of the composition are compounded by the perception of movement bringing the vertical dynamics to life, in particular in the bending of the elbows and the scale of the flat hands.