COLLECTION: Decorative Sculpture

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Snake Swallowing a Mouse

Possibly 1890-1910
Origin: America, Southeast (possibly)
Overall: 3 1/2 x 18 x 12in. (8.9 x 45.7 x 30.5cm)
Wood and paint
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1966.701.1
A painted woodcarving representing a coiled snake in the act of swallowing a mouse, whose forelegs were broken off and are missing.
Label:Serpents and other reptiles are common elements in the religious iconography of many societies, especially in Africa. In African culture, snakes often represent the spirit world or act as messengers between that world and earth. This conception of the metaphysical power of snakes was, in turn, transferred to North America by Africans brought there as slaves. In certain areas of the South, snakes are still used in religious ceremonies, thus preserving the bond between African and American culture. The resemblance between Snake Swallowing a Mouse and a ca. 1800 Ivory Coast pendant illustrates this link and suggests the artist may have been African-American [note 1].
The snake's colied strength indicates that struggle is futile and that the mouse's predicament is hopeless. The quality of the sculpture's design and carving nearly obscures its subject, a visceral depiction of imminent death.
Provenance:David David, Inc., Philadelphia, Pa.