19th Century AD to 20th Century AD
13″ (33.0cm) high x 4.75″ (12.1cm) wide
Liberia / Ivory Coast
Like the gold weights of the Akan peoples and the heddle pulleys of the Baule and Senufo tribes, the bronze figures of the Dan are considered to be the exceptional case in the corpus of African art: art objects created for art’s sake. Void of any religious significance or ceremonial function, these realistically crafted sculptures were used by chieftains as purely decorative objects. The chieftain took pleasure in them as they are, appreciating the extraordinary beauty of the objects and the inherent skills of the craftsmanship.
This sculpture of a bearded male, standing stiffly with his arms held at his sides, bears the stylistic signatures of Dan figurative art including the bulbous limbs, planar feet and hands, and the almond-shaped eyes. There is evidence of ritual scarification on his cheeks, resembling two coffee beans, probably relating to an initiation ceremony. There is also a relative emphasis placed on the lower half of the body that is rendered much thicker and heavier than the upper portion. Over the years, the bronze has acquired a rich green patina in certain places that contrast quite elegantly to the golden hue of the metal. Such a splendid masterpiece of sculpture needs no ceremonial or religious purpose to achieve its power. The force of this artwork is the art itself and the hand of the sculptor. Originally, this work was coveted as an object of beauty by chieftains of the Dan tribe. Today, we appreciate this same striking beauty much as the chieftain would have almost a century ago.