Flintclay Earth Mother Figurine and Maternity Figure with Chicken: A Comparative Visual Analysis Essay
Flintclay Earth Mother Figurine and Maternity Figure with Chicken: A Comparative Visual Analysis
The roadmap of this essay is to present a comparison and contrast of two artifacts displayed in the Krannert Art Museum, namely the 12th century Mississippian Flintclay earth mother figurine and the early 20th century Yoruba Maternity figure with chicken. To be sure, there are many areas that can be discussed as points for comparison and contrast. But this essay shall be limited to discussing only four visual qualities: the message or the reality of the material, the general appearance, their artistic leaning, and overall appeal or impact. In the end, this paper hopes to argue that despite obvious differences, certain notable similarities can be pointed out between the two materials being compared and contrasted.
One normally evaluates an artwork in relation to the message it wants to convey to the audience (Suggestions for Doing Analysis, n.p.). A beautiful painting, for example, is one that has its message communicated to the people viewing it. If one evaluates the Mississippian Flintclay earth mother figurine and the Yoruba Maternity figure with chicken, one discovers that the two artifacts picture the same reality: a working mother. It therefore can be argued that both artifacts depict the same lifestyle; i.e., the way of life of people, specifically of women, in a country whose main activity is tilling the land and tending animals or flocks in order to make a living. In both woman-figurines, one can see an image of a child being carried at the back of the mother. Thus, it can be said that the artworks strongly depict the reality of motherhood as well. However, the two materials differ in their mode of work which they express. The Flintclay earth mother figurine appears to hold an ancient tool used to process grains. It suggests that the woman, who can be in a field or simply at home, is preparing to cook the grains being processed. The Maternity figure with chicken meanwhile, as the title suggests, seems to depict an image of a woman, kneeling down and holding a basket with a chicken inside, as though she was going to offer someone what she is holding as a sign of hospitality or respect.
As for the general appearance, the two artworks differ in many aspects. The Yoruba Maternity figure with chicken has a more complete depiction of the artwork; it gives a glimpse of the whole body of the kneeling woman and the child at her back. The Flintclay earth mother figurine, however, appears to depict only a portion of a woman; the huge round block covering the down part of the figurine cannot be very well taken. In other words, one may not easily understand if the round block at the bottom portion of the figurine is indeed an artistic expression of the material, or merely an indicative sign of an unfinished product. That being said, one may notice that the two artifacts appear to differ in sizes. But while the Yoruba Maternity figurine appears to be visibly larger, there are nevertheless good reason to classify both works as small or small-to-medium sized artifacts, which can be placed in glass frames measuring about 3-feet wide and 3-feet tall.
In addition, one may notice that both artworks have hues of red and shades of brown. The Yoruba Maternity figure, because it is perceptibly made out of wood, come in shades of brown that is lighter and brighter. One may also notice that the figurine’s color is uneven in some parts; lighter brown covers body of the woman, down to her feet and the ground into where she kneels. The darker brown however covers the woman’s face, her arms, the middle portion of the ground, as well as the inner portion of the basket and the chicken on top of it. Its darker brown portion, if seen from different angles, can be mistaken to maple or reddish hues. Compared to the Yoruba Maternity figure, the Flintclay earth mother figurine is visibly darker in tone and color shade. The brown color is very pronounced. And one can even notice that its brownness becomes very dark, and may turn towards a reddish shade when light-stricken. The red-like hue can be attributed to its being made out of clay (besides, clays are oftentimes colored red). Unlike the Maternity figure, the Flintclay earth mother figurine has an even coloring; its color is consistent reddish brown, all throughout.
As far as the artistic tendencies are concerned, one can note striking differences between the two artifacts. On the one hand, the Flintclay earth mother figure appears to be plain and more representative of reality. The contours of the figurine are smoothly defined and realistic. In fact, the face of the woman can be distinguished; she even has two scars in her face. Her nose is a large and boney, and her breasts are curved accordingly, or are proportionate to the body. Her hands and arms, while pronounced, are not muscular, as if to suggest firmness and femininity at the same time. On the other hand, the Yoruba Maternity figurine looks to be more detailed and artistic in appearance. It helps to say that it is more artistic than realistic in appearance. The woman’s head has an emphasized jaw; her lips are protruding. There appears to be tattoos covering most part of the face. Donned with what looks like neck-bracelets, the woman’s neck appears to be longer than normal. Her breasts are placed high above her chest, and they are pointed rather than curved. In her arms are bead-like designs, covering most part of them until the portion where there are hand-bracelets. Lastly, the feathers of the chicken manifest consistent crisscrossing curves that complement the sophistication of the woman’s appearance.
Finally, when one considers the overall impact of the artworks, it would appear that both materials elicit artistic feelings, however unique or different these feelings may be. For instance, the Yoruba maternity figurine may appeal to impressionists rather than to realists. The figurine is clearly embedded with the artistic flavor or expression of its context. The over-emphasis on the length the woman’s neck and arms, the frequency of the tattoos, or the shape or contours of the breasts may indicate that the artwork is more linear than real. There are even reasons to think that geometry has played a large role in determining the artwork. The predominance of squares and triangles embedded throughout the artwork is suggestive of the geometrical flavor of the artifact. Thus, because it is expressive of the maker’s artistic leanings, it must be evaluated on how it expresses art, and not on how faithful it depicts reality. By contrast, the Flintclay earth mother figurine elicits an artistic flavor of realism. Clearly, the artwork tried to copy reality as faithful as possible. One can see this in how well the face of the woman is captured with emotions, not the least scars. The body is proportionate; her body parts fits into the size of the body. The contours of the figurine are smooth and defined according to reality as well. The plainness of the artwork is very obvious. Unlike the Yoruba maternity figurine with chicken, there are not a lot of artistic alterations in the Flintclay earth mother figure.
As a way to end, this paper concludes that despite noticeable differences, there are indeed similarities that can be pointed out between the Mississippian Flintclay earth mother figure and the Yoruba maternity figure with chicken. In the discussions that were developed, it was seen that both artworks are able to depict their “working mother” messages effectively. They likewise possess more or less the same hue and shades of red and brown. And while their artistic expressions are very different – being that the Flintclay earth mother figure is more realistic, and that the Yoruba maternity figurine with chicken is more artistic – one can still say that both works are effective expressions of art in the final analysis.
Suggestions for Doing Analysis of Visual Image. 25 February 2009 <http://pirate.shu.edu/~jonesedm/1201Fall2000/Visual%20Analysis.htm>