By Carla Herling
Drake University (formerly University of Iowa)

MaliDjenné style

Maternity figure


H. 29 cm. (11”)          

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.493

Evidence of the great antiquity of these concerns among people everywhere is the fired clay figure of a woman holding a nursing infant on her lap.  The figure was modeled by an artist of the ancient culture of the Inland Delta of the Niger River, a culture often called Djenné (or Jenné) after the nearest modern city.  The fired clay objects produced by the Djenné culture have been dated from the 700 AD to 1400 AD.  This figure may have been placed on a shrine in the corner of a home dedicated to the fertility of the women of the family.  The woman kneels in a pose of respect toward the gods that provide their blessings over those who honor them. The woman's necklace in the form of a snake is a reference to moisture and fertility.