Yoruba Equestrian Group, Nigeria
height 8 1/2in (21.5cm)
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection, Switzerland
Sotheby's, New York, June 1983, lot 122
Private Collection, England
Yale, Van Rijn Archive #0072347-01
According to Fagg and Pemberton (1982: p 94), "The equestrian figure is a common theme in Yoruba wood sculpture, but very few examples are known to have been carved in ivory. William Fagg illustrated a rare nineteenth-century ivory figure in the collection of the British Museum of a horseman holding a pair of edan, emblems of the Ogboni secret society.
The use...is not all certain. Wande Abimbola has suggested that it may have been an emblem of the office for an Oyo palace official.
ibid (p 174), "The diminutive animal and the dwarfish legs of the horseman are typical of equestrian figures...By combining distorted and naturalistic forms, the artist shapes our perception of the locus of man's power. Our attention is drawn to the head and the quietly confident face of the horseman...We feel and know the strength, the authority, of the rider. It is a man who possesses the skill to master nature for his own ends. Horseman and carver alike take control of the physical world, shaping it to make it conform to their perceptions of man's power. But of the two, the carver's power is the greater, for he shapes and recreates the image of man in terms of the mystery of the human gaze. He enables us to see through the appearance of material things to the invisible reality. The hand of the carver is, therefore, more powerful than the hand of the horseman. Through the artist's vision and skill life is perpetually renewed." '