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African Art
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext2 of 2
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery

Figure Representing Èsù

late 19th–early 20th century

Wood, hide, and cowrie shells

17 × 7 1/4 × 5 1/2 in. (43.2 × 18.4 × 14 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
In Yoruba religion, Èsù, or Elégba, is the divine messenger, gatekeeper, and master of crossroads, and therefore is considered a vital link between the deities and humans. A popular motif related to Èsù is that of a man playing the flute, an instrument used by hunters to communicate in the bush, thus referring to Èsù’s role as a mediator. Èsù bestows those who follow his lead with wealth while he steals from those who do not acknowledge his authority. Here this is referred to with the strings of cowries shells, a former currency and a sign of wealth and power.
Guinea Coast, Nigeria
On view
19th–20th century

Arcade Gallery, London, to March 30, 1988; Charles B. Benenson Collection, Greenwich, Conn, 1988–2004; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.


Richard Barnes, “Objects of Desire,” Yale Alumni Magazine (September/October 2004): 33, ill.

“Acquisitions, July 1, 2005–June 30, 2006,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2006): 222.

Frederick John Lamp, Amanda Maples, and Laura M. Smalligan, Accumulating Histories: African Art from the Charles B. Benenson Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2012), 171, ill.

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.