African Art
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Harp Resonator with a Finial in the Shape of a Female Head

late 19th century

Wood, hide, and metal

19 1/2 × 5 11/16 × 4 5/16 in. (49.5 × 14.5 × 11 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
The shape of this sound box, or resonator, has been compared to a ship, with an elongated keel, prow, rudder, and figurehead. Only nine extant examples of this kind are recorded, all of which are believed to have come from Sierra Leone before 1900. The elaborate coiffure, ringed neck, and facial features of the finial conform to the ideals of female beauty expressed by Mende culture. Harps with vertical bridges, or string holders, are found throughout West Africa; the best known and most elaborate of these is the kora, or twenty-one-string Maninkaharp, principally played by the griots (praise singers) of Senegambia and Mali. These are plucked, either with the fingers or with a plectrum.
or geography Guinea Coast, Sierra Leone
On view
19th–20th century
Musical Instruments

William Downing Webster, England to March 4, 1898 or George Fabian Lawrence, England to March 4, 1898; Lt.-Gen. Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers, Farnam, Dorset, England, from March 4, 1898. Possibly sold at Sotheby's London on November 15, 1965. Charles B. Benenson Collection, donated to Yale University Art Gallery in 2004


Susan Vogel, African Sculpture: The Shape of Surprise, exh. cat. (Greenvale, N.Y.: C. W. Post Gallery, 1980), no. 120.

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

Marie-Thérèse Brincard, Sounding Forms: African Musical Instruments (New York: American Federation of Arts, 1989), fig. 12.

Warren M. Robbins and Nancy Ingram Nooter, African Art in American Collections (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), 558, fig. 1534.

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), 229, 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.