African Art

Woman’s Head Shawl (Mendil)

mid-20th century

Wool, cotton, natural dyes, silk, and rayon or synthetic yarn

40 × 29 in. (101.6 × 73.66 cm)
Leonard C. Hanna, Jr., Class of 1913, Fund
This elaborate woolen head shawl is a type worn for weddings. The lower part is decorated in the plangi tie-dye technique, in which the circle motif is created by binding a seed into the textile before dying. Berber women wove and dyed the textiles themselves and then commissioned the colorful embroidery from female or male specialists (possibly of Jewish origin) in urban centers. North African woolen weaves were very much sought after in West Africa, and Portuguese merchants traded along the coast for local produce in the sixteenth century. Prior to the establishment of coastal trade, woolen textiles from the northern part of the continent likely would have been brought south on trans-Saharan caravan routes. Comparable embroidery styles have also been found along the southern fringe of the Sahara.
Tamezret or Toujout, Matmata Mountains, Tunisia
Not on view
20th century

Purchased by Renate Anna Menzel (menzel Galerie Nordafrika), Austria, from an antiques dealer in Tunis
Yale University Art Gallery purchased from Renate Anna Menzel (menzel Galerie Nordafrika) in 2016


“Acquisitions July 1, 2015–June 30, 2016,” (accessed December 1, 2016).

Cynthia Becker, “Amazigh Woven Textiles at Yale: Visual Expressions of Berber Women’s Creativity and Inventiveness,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2017): 34, fig. 1.

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.