Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Crest Mask (Tsesah)

18th century
Cameroon, Grassfields region
Bamileke peoples
H. 37 × W. 32 1/2 × D. 11 1/2 in. (94 × 82.6 × 29.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Acquisitions and Rogers Funds, and Anonymous, James J. Ross, and Marian Malcolm Gifts, 2017
Accession Number:
Not on view
Majestic in scale, this captivating creation at once massive and ethereal distills the head to a series of elemental forms. An expansive two-dimensional forehead soars above a series of volumetric features compressed in the lower half of the composition. The penetrating gaze of boldly outlined eyes is oriented heavenward. This work is the most monumental and believed to be among the earliest of a series of fifteen surviving interpretations of what is among the most ambitious genres developed by master sculptors in the Cameroon Grassfields. In those Grassfields chiefdoms that acquired exemplars of these epic crests, they were dramatic avatars of power and authority. This sculptural element crowned the apparition of an emissary of the chief’s inner circle wearing flowing robes to punctuate matters of state ranging from royal funerals, enthronement rites, and the delivery of judicial sentences. During the early twentieth century Western art critics marveled at the highly inventive abstraction of this sculptural genre that in turn became a source of great interest to members of the Western avant-garde.
Collected in Cameroon by Pierre Dartevelle, ca. 1967–1970; Pierre Dartevelle, Brussels, until 2017

"Primitivism" in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1984.

Debbaut, Jan, Dominique Favart, and G. van Geertruyen. Utotombo : l'art d'Afrique noire dans les collections privées belges. Brussels: Palais des Beaux-Arts, 1988, no. 141, p. 194.

Notué, Jean-Paul. Batcham: Sculptures du Cameroun: Nouvelles perspectives anthropologiques. Marseille and Paris: Musées de Marseille, 1993, no. 8, p. 116.

Bassani, Ezio, ed. Africa: capolavori da un continente. Firenze: Artificio Skira, 2003, p. 277, fig.3.61.

Bassani, Ezio. 7,000 Years of African Art. Milan and Monaco: Skira , 2005, p. 319, fig.29c.

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