Male Reliquary Guardian Figure

Artist/maker unknown, African, Gabon, Fang

Made in Gabon, Africa

Mid- 19th century

Wood, metal strips

20 3/8 x 6 x 5 inches (51.8 x 15.2 x 12.7 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950

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Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    Like the neighboring Kota, the Fang people made reliquary guardian figures that were placed above containers holding the bones of ancestors. Fang guardians, however, are not nearly as stylized as Kota examples. They most often represent full-bodied figures whose sculptural forms are created to transmit aspects of Fang philosophy. The Fang believe that the successful person is able to balance the opposing forces within the environment and the persona, such as male and female or youth and age. Concomitantly, successful Fang sculptures display similar qualities of equilibrium and life, as are admirably expressed in the tensions between the muscular legs, hips, arms, and shoulders and the more columnar neck and torso of this powerful male guardian. Additional vitality was given through repeated applications of palm oil, which resulted in the thick brown patina, and the now missing metal disks around the eyes, which provided constant vigilance. It would be surprising if the Arensbergs, who owned this figure, did not admire its affinities to their 1909 drawing of a man by Pablo Picasso, which displays the same sturdy equilibrium. Allen Wardwell, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 56.