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A rare and important yoruba door by olowe of ise (ca. 1875-1936)

Über das Objekt

Ilekun, of rectangular form overall with notches and posts for hinges, the central panel carved in high relief, a border of concentric triangles surround the checkered grid with stylized faces, rosettes and concentric circles framing the mise en scène with a central male figure marching with a staff in hand and wearing an elaborate transversely crested coiffure against a shuttered background; exceptionally fine, aged and varied patina decorated with red ochre and white pigments.\nOlowe of Ise was the greatest Yoruba carver of the twentieth century.  During his forty years as a mature carver (born c. 1875 and died c.1936), he created hundreds of sculptures.  Rosalyn A. Walker celebrated the artistry of Olowe in her exhibition and catalogue, Olowe of Ise:  A Yoruba Sculptor to Kings, in which all known works by Olowe were documented, including this very fine door (see figure 7).  Since her publication, a superb bowl has been discovered and added to the Olowe corpus (see Sotheby’s auction May 14, 2004, lot 60).\nOlowe was a prolific carver.  We know from his oriki, praise songs, by which Yoruba people are honored and remembered, that he carved for kings and chiefs in towns throughout southern Ekiti:  Ikere, Igede, Ukiti, Ogbaji, Use, Akure, Ogotun, as well as other communities where his work has been photographed by travelers and researchers.  This geographic scope covers a remarkable 70 to 80 square miles. This wide distribution demonstrates that Olowe's work was highly sought after by those from other regions who went to Ise to commission him and those who brought him to their town to create large-scale works. The range of his work is impressive: small ibeji figures in memory of deceased twins; mirror cases; bowls; shrine figures for the orisha, Yoruba deities; prestige carvings of kneeling female figures holding a bowl containing kola nuts with which to greet visitors; drums, both the small gbedu and larger ikarakara; veranda posts; and doors, some single panel, ilekun, and other grand palace entry doors with double panels, ilekun aafin.\nWalker believes that this door was carved in the 1930’s, possibly for the palace of the Ogoga of Ikere.  We know that from an early photograph by Iva L. R. Meyerwitz taken in 1937 that it was not the smaller door on the palace veranda.  However, there were many chambers in the palace that once had carved doors, including some containing dedicated shrines to specific orisha. In an interview in 1988 with the youngest daughter of Obadeye I, the Ogoga of Ikere from 1932-76, I was told that Olowe spent several years at the palace carving veranda posts and doors, and other sculptures as well.\nAmong the single panel doors that we may attribute to Olowe with confidence, this door is distinctive in having a single figure carved in the center panel.  As in all his bas-relief carvings, the figure stands forth from the panel, almost three dimensional in its sculptural form.  In panels of his great double doors, row upon row of figures, engaged in various activities, stand in bold relief, some leaning out far enough for an observer to put several fingers behind the upper portion of their bodies.  The intriguing questions are: what does the figure signify and what was the chamber behind the door?  We know that Olowe had carved doors for the entrances to the chambers or residences of Ifa priests, diviners known as babalawo, ‘father of secrets’  (see Walker 1998, figs. 8 and 9; Abiodun, Drewal and Pemberton, 1991, fig. 59).  Images of divination trays, opon Ifa, the principal ritual artifact, where human concerns and spiritual powers meet, appear in the central panels.  In the present door there is a figure holding what appears to be a staff, oshe.  The upper portion is missing, but below the figure’s hand is a cluster of bells.  Such staffs symbolized the office of the one who had the authority to carry it.  The top of the staff would have conveyed an emblem, for example, a bird, as on a diviner’s staff, or a gathering of birds on the staffs of herbalist priests, along with additional bells.  It is obvious that the figure is male.  Above his genitals he wears strands of waistbeads.  His braided hair is styled in the fashion of a woman.  In the town of Oshogbo, to the southwest of the Ekiti area, I interviewed priests of orisha Oshun, goddess of medicinal waters, who bestows her beauty upon her devotees, blessing them with children.  Male priests are often the ‘children’ of Oshun.  The priests braided their hair in the elaborate fashion of priestesses and wore waistbeads.  The cult of orisha Oshun is widespread in the southern and northern Ekiti areas.  Hence, I would venture to say that, apart from the inconclusive evidence of the damaged staff, the central figure is that of a priest of the Oshun cult and that the door was carved for the palace shrine for orisha Oshun.\nThe entire door also speaks the name of Olowe.  The artist’s ‘eye for design,’ oju-ona, his mastery of composition, is clearly evident.  Olowe was never curtailed by a commitment to a strict organizational scheme, as in the doors carved by Areogun of Osi Ilorin, the great carver in northern Ekiti.  The central panel with figure is in the upper half, although the upper half is a bit more than half.  The top register contains two motifs which Olowe used on many of his carvings: two faces and a design of concentric circles.  The lower portion of the composition has two rows of these same motifs, the lowest repeating the top register and that immediately above it with the motifs reversed.  Olowe has depicted the faces with prominent beards.  On other door panels, where he has used this motif, a third of the faces have beards or goatees and the remainder do not, as in the 26 faces in two columns on the palace door of Ise (Walker 1998, fig. 4.)  Symmetry/asymmetry is a hallmark of Olowe’s sense of composition.  In this door, he employs two basic motifs.  As we have noted, their placement entails both reflection and contrast.  Moreover, here are the motifs of face and rosettes on either side of the central panel.  On the right a vertical series of three images: rosettes above and below a face without a beard.  On the left four images: smaller rosettes above and below two smaller beardless faces.  Again, one sees the playful juxtaposition of symmetry/asymmetry.  Surrounding the entire composition is a series of chevrons radiating outward, framing the entire composition, without concern for side mirroring side, top mirroring bottom.  The entire carving reveals a playfulness in the artistic imagination of a skilled artist.\nJohn Pemberton III\nAmherst College


Height 65 1/2 in. 166.4cm


Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Yoruba: Nine Centuries of Art and Thought, February 10 - April 1, 1990 Hanover, New Hampshire, The Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Curator's Choice, May 24, 1990 - June 30, 1993


Walker, Olowe of Ise: A Yoruba Sculptor to Kings, 1998: 51, catalogue number 7, catalogue of the exhibition at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., March 15 - September 7, 1998


Harry A. Franklin Family Collection, Beverly Hills Acquired from Sotheby's New York, April 21, 1990, lot 315


Property from an American Private Collection

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*Beachten Sie, dass der Preis nicht auf den aktuellen Wert umgerechnet wird, sondern sich auf den tatsächlichen Endpreis zum Zeitpunkt des Verkaufs des Objekts bezieht.