Djenne Bronze Sculpture of a Horse and Rider - PF.5171
Origin: Central Mali
Circa: 14 th Century AD to 16 th Century AD
Dimensions: 6.25" (15.9cm) high x 6.75" (17.1cm) wide
Collection: African
Style: Djenne
Medium: Bronze


The Malian kingdom of Djenne was founded in about 300 AD, and was moved in the 12th or 13th century when the area and the kingdom converted to Islam. Its primary purpose was to control trade routes through land and waterways alike, in terms of which it was successful and in direct competition with the much larger kingdom of Mali, nearby. This pattern echoes that of the Yoruba and its uncertain relationship small yet powerful Benin polity. The importance of the city meant that it was repeatedly under siege through much of the middle ages, only declining in importance with the French invasion of 1893. Culturally, the Djenne people were astonishingly prolific. The design and structure of the city was among the most sophisticated of the time, and their artistic achievements rank alongside those of the Nok and the Ife in Nigeria. The range of ceramics and bronzes seems to reflect religious and secular intentions, with what are probably quasi-portraits, and even cautionary tales. Styles are very variable, as the influence of the Djenne polity was strong across much of Mali and areas that were later influenced by the Tellem and the Dogon. In general terms, Djenne figurative sculptures tend to elongate the human form, with expressionist detailing of faces and slightly disproportionate relationships between limbs and torso. Heads tend to be angled back so that the beard – if male – is perpendicular to the long axis of the body. Ceramic body surfaces are often decorated with swirls, geometric designs and hatching, while better preserved specimens retain stripes and dashes of red, black and white paint. The metal sculptures are less extravagant, presumably reflecting the increased cost of copper/bronze as a raw material. The equestrian figure is one of the most iconic of the Djenne designs, and there is reason to believe that horse ownership was the preserve of the elite. There are also indications that these are geographically restricted, with the majority coming from the area around Guimbala. The current example is comparatively large in the context of Djenne metalwork, and would have beena prestige item at the time of manufacture. The horse is of simple geometric design, with a columnar body and simplistically modelled limbs with kneecaps on the forelimbs. It wears an ornate bridle and bit, with a (presumably textile) nose-strap. The rider is similarly disproportionate in that his lower limbs are nugatory, with a more realistic and well-modelled upper limb, torso and head. His right arm holds a sword over his shoulder; the left arm grasps the reins at the nape of the horse’s neck. The martial aspect of the figure denotes warrior status, which is exacerbated by the determined expression on his face. This is a beautifully executed and important piece of Djenne artwork. - (PF.5171)



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