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Catalog Data

Inland Niger Delta Style  Search this
H x W x D: 70.5 x 15.2 x 45.7cm (27 3/4 x 6 x 18in.)
Inland Niger Delta region, Mali
13th-15th century
Label Text:
Since the 1940s, low-fired ceramic figures and fragments such as this have been unearthed at various sites throughout the Inland Niger Delta region, an area that once had highly developed urban centers. These works are among the earliest known surviving art forms in sub-Saharan Africa. The makers were from the various peoples in the region, but it is not known whether they were men or women. Using a mixture of coarse clay and added grog (crushed pot sherds), the potters modeled the figures by hand. Some were modeled in separate parts and fitted together. Most surviving examples are solid, but a few are hollow and built with clay coils. The surfaces are polished and covered with a red slip (clay wash). These massive works are among the largest known terracotta figures created by sub-Saharan African potters. By the 15th or 16th century, environmental and political events caused the urban centers of the Delta region to be abandoned, and the art tradition did not survive.
Research, including local oral traditions, indicates that all ethnic groups in the Delta region used these figures. The earliest known written reference to them occurs in a letter of 1447. In it, a visiting Italian merchant remarked that the figures were kept in sanctuaries and venerated as representing the deified ancestors of famous founding rulers of the region. The elaborate dress of the figures suggests ceremonial military attire, and they may represent warriors who were once allies of the Malian emperor Sundjata Keita (c. 1210-c. 1260). Based on stylistic comparisons with similar figures, these works can be tentatively dated to between the 13th and 15th centuries.
Equestrian figure with a quiver slung across the back diagonally from the right shoulder down.
Kassim Sidibe, Mali, 1973-1974 (equestrian)
Marie Ange Ciolkowska, Paris, 1973-1974 (horse's head)
Karl Heinz Krieg, Neunkirchen, Germany, 1973-1974 (fragments)
Emile M. Deletaille, Brussels, 1973-1974 to 1986
Exhibition History:
Caravans of Gold Fragments in Time, Block Museum of Art, Evanston, IL, January 26, 2019–July 21, 2019; The Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, Canada, September 21, 2019–February 23, 2020; Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C., July 16, 2021 – February 27, 2022
Heroes: Principles of African Greatness, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 16, 2019–September 8, 2020
General exhibition, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., installed September 20, 2016–August, 27, 2019
Pavilion, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., October 2, 2002
Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration, National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., October 12, 1991-January 12, 1992
Published References:
DeGrunne, Bernard. 1980. Terres Cuites Anciennes de l'Ouest African. Louvain la Neuve: Institut Superieur d'Archeologie et Histoire, p. 76, no. 110l.
Etudes maliennesno. 2016. 82, page 234,
Klee, Mary Beth, John Cribb and John Holden. 2005. The Human Odyssey, Vol. 2. K12, Inc.
Kreamer, Christine Mullen. 2003. " A Tribute to Roy Sieber: Part 2." African Arts 36 (2), pp. 16, 19, no. 18.
National Museum of African Art. 1999. Selected Works from the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, pp. 114-115, no. 1B.
National Museum of African Art. 2007. 2007-2008 School Calendar: Featuring the new Let's Read about Africa and the Sounds of African Music programs. Museum calendar. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, February 2008.
Stockstad, Marilyn and Michael W. Cothren. 2010. Art: A Brief History (4th edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Stokes, Deborah. 2013. National Museum of African Art School Programs: The Arts Can Take You Places! Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, p. 11.
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equestrian  Search this
horse  Search this
male  Search this
Credit Line:
Museum purchase
Object number:
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Data Source:
National Museum of African Art