African Art
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery

Oil lamp (Fitula)

19th century

Iron

67 x 20 in. (170.2 x 50.8 cm)
Gift of Labelle Prussin, Ph.D. 1973
2005.19.1
In its numerological references and composition, this intricately crafted lamp synthesizes Islamic, Jewish, and Mande concepts. The forty-six cups are organized in a numerical combination of three, four, seven, ten, fourteen, and twenty-two, all numbers that figure in the sacred numerology of African myths of origin, Islamic Sufism, and Judaic Kabbalah. The lamp was lit once a year for the Tabaski Feast (feast of Abraham), which is observed during the last month of the Muslim lunar year. The shaft was planted into the ground, and the wicks in the oil-filled cups were lit. The lamp is visually reminiscent of the tree of life, known in the Christian, Islamic, and Jewish traditions. Its decorative volutes recall rams’ horns, in a reference to ritual animal sacrifice in Islamic and Judaic iconography.
Culture: 
Bozo (Sorko)
Period: 
19th century
Classification: 
Lighting Devices
Geography: 
Country Kolenze village, Kouakourou area, Sahel, Mali
Status: 
Not on view
Provenance: 

Purchased by Labelle Prussin from a man in the village of Kolenze, area of Kouakourou, Mali 1970
Donated to Yale University Art Gallery by Labelle Prussin in 2005.

Bibliography: 

“Acquisitions 2004,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2005): 140.

Labelle Prussin, “David in West Africa: ‘No More Forever’?,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2005): 88–89, ill.

Art for Yale: Collecting for a New Century, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2007), 185, 382, pl. 167.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.