By William Dewey
Pennsylvania State University (formerly University of Iowa)

Mali; Inland Niger Delta Style

Equestrian figure

13th-15th century


H x W x D: 70.5 x 15.2 x 45.7cm (27 3/4 x 6 x 18in.)

Museum purchase


Photograph by Franko Khoury

National Museum of African Art

Smithsonian Institution

This equestrian figure is in the same so-called Djenné (Jenne) style, although there is no evidence that it was found anywhere near Djenné.  The cylindrical treatment of the torso and limbs of both horse and rider is again evident, and the careful attention to accoutrements such as the helmet, quiver, and horse trappings that distinguish this style are in place. Horses are rarely depicted in Africa and symbolize different things depending on where they are found. Horses seen in the art of Igbo Ukwu and Benin which are in the tropical forest, where disease kills horses quickly, indicate that the horses were expensive symbols of political authority. In the savanna areas of West Africa, such as here in Mali, horses represented military power, specifically the powerful cavalry of invaders who dominated the region for centuries.