Figure: Head, Steatite, Sapi peoples

Figure: Head

16th century
Sierra Leone
Sapi peoples
H. 10 3/16 x W. 8 1/2 x D.14 1/4 in. (26 x 21.6 x 36.2 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1965
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 352
Little is known of the original use and significance of this tradition of steatite sculpture, created in southeastern Sierra Leone and western Guinea in the sixteenth century. The massive head, bulging eyes, broad nose with flaring nostrils, full lips, and jaw relate stylistically to works in carved ivory from the same period created by local artisans for European patrons. Attributes of this figure, such as the elaborate coiffure, scarifications, and filed teeth, suggest that it represents an individual of rank and distinction. Such works in durable materials are important documents that provide a glimpse into indigenous cultural practices of earlier periods. In the relatively recent past, these sculptures have been unearthed by local farmers of Kissi and Mende heritage who have assimilated them into new contexts as part of their own ritual life.
[René Rasmussen, Galerie AAA, Paris, 1934–1960]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1960–1965; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1965–1978

Museum of Primitive Art. Traditional Art of the African Nations in the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: University Publishers, Inc., 1961, no. 22.

Museum of Primitive Art. Masterpieces in the Museum of Primtive Art: Africa, Oceania, North America, Mexico, Central to South America, Peru. Handbook series. New York, NY: Museum of Primitive Art, 1965, no. 6.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 315.

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 53.