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Reliquary Guardian Figure

Unidentified Fang artist (Betsi subgroup)
before 1910
Wood, brass, iron, palm oil
Possibly associated with
Woleu-Ntem province, Central Africa, Gabon, Africa
Río Muni region, Central Africa, Equatorial Guinea, Africa
Current Location
On View, Gallery 102
figure: 19 1/2 in. x 6 1/4 in. x 6 in. (49.5 x 15.9 x 15.2 cm)
Credit Line
Museum Purchase
Public Domain
Object Number
The bright, inset eyes of this figure suggest the ability to see past the earthly realm. The Fang attached figures such as this, with the feet dangling down, to the lids of cylindrical containers which preserved the skulls and bones of important ancestors. These figures symbolically evoke the ancestor and guard the relics within. These sculptures may reflect Fang ideas about death and rebirth in the use of infantile forms—such as a high, bulging forehead and shortened limbs—combined with more mature characteristics. Spiritually empowered by the bones and relics, these reliquary figures could also be placed in and around the houses of the extended family for protection. Such mobile reliquaries were an innovation developed to meet the needs of a migrant community, as villages periodically relocated due to the vagaries of the difficult forest environment.
by 1936 - 1942
Frank Crowninshield (1872–1947), New York, NY, USA [1]

1942 -
Saint Louis Art Museum, purchased at auction,"African Sculptures," McMillen, Inc., New York, October 16 - November 7, 1942, lot no. 13 [2]

[1] The main source of this provenance is the exhibition catalogue "Exhibition of Sculptures of Old African Civilizations: From the Collection of Frank Crowninshield." The exhibition took place in the Jacques Seligmann Gallery in New York from January 4 to January 22, 1936. 23:1942 is illustrated on page 7 of the catalogue.

[2] The main source of this provenance is the exhibition catalogue "A Selection of African Sculptures from the Frank Crowninshield Collection." The exhibition took place at McMillen, Inc. in New York from October 16 through November 7, 1941. An invoice dated April 27, 1942 from McMillen, Inc. to the City Art Museum documents the purchase of this object, listed as "Pahouin Gabon, seated figure of a Pahouin King" [SLAM document files]. Minutes of the Administrative Board of Control of the City Art Museum, April 2, 1942.
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