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Figure of a Man Riding an Elephant

African Art

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Figure of a Man Riding an Elephant

Artwork Details


Sapi Artist
Sierra Leone


sixteenth century or earlier



Accession #



11 3/4 inches


On View - Stent Family Wing, Skyway, Gallery 401


This extraordinary sculpture, now fragmentary, presents an intentionally disproportionate image of a large, broad-shouldered man, with a carefully manicured beard, riding a tiny elephant. Their inter-locking forms suggest a mutual interdependence. The shapes of their ears echo one another. The rider grasps the elephant’s ear, a significant gesture since elephants hear sounds inaudible to humans. Nine heads, likely representing vanquished enemies, ring the base along with as a small, prostrate body, beneath the elephant’s foot. Stone carvings such as this one, dating to before the arrival of Europeans in 1463, have been found in the earth in Sierra Leone and Liberia. They are believed to have been created by populations ancestral to the Sherbro people.


Purchase with Fred and Rita Richman Special Initiatives Endowment Fund for African Art

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