2992

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Rare Massim Double Pedestal Cup with Spirit Figures

Massim People, Trobiand Islands, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea
20th century

height: 70.5cm, diameter of bowl: 20.5cm

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Provenance

private collection, UK

This tall – monumental even – Massim carved bowl and double stand, carved from a single piece of wood, might well be unique. No other such example appears to have been published. It is difficult if not impossible to say whether the item was made for trade or local use. Possibly, it was intended to be decorative, or perhaps was made to hold and offer betel nuts.

The item comprises a wide bowl held aloft by a caryatid pair of seated or squatting humanoid figures who are in turn held aloft by another pair of standing figures.

They rise from a rounded base that is incised with curvilinear motifs. The bowl also features incised motifs.

This finely attenuated figures have the classically rounded heads associated with Massim figurative forms, elongated arms and legs, and incised body decoration. A thin nose comes off a powerful brow line, and leads to a long, thin mouth and square jaw.

According to Peltier & Morin (2007, p. 183), there is no evidence that such figures represented ancestors of ‘cultural heroes’, but rather appear to have served as forms to be inhabited by protective spirits.

This example here is in fine condition with no losses and no repairs. It is large and sculptural, and has a fine, brown patina.

References

Peltier, P. & F. Morin, Shadows of New Guinea: Art from the Great Island of Oceania in the Barbier-Mueller Collections, Somogy, 2007.

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