Tab 25 - Idols of the Mandan Indians

Karl Bodmer

Bodmer’s America


Pulled from the original steel and copper plates, engraved in Paris between 1836 and 1843 under Karl Bodmer's direction, after the artist's own watercolours drawn from nature during the journey.

The engravings are hand-printed in colours, à la poupée, with extensive hand-colouring and some application of gum arabic, in the nineteenth-century manner.

engraved in two or three different versions or plates by Vogel, Himely, and Hurlimann-Himely
Printed by Bougeard

Beyond the palisade of the summer village near Fort Clark, and adjacent to the burial ground, Prince Maximilian observed several different types of Mandan shrines, but was not always able to discover their significance in every instance. Bodmer painted one of these, consisting of a pair of tall, hide-wrapped poles adorned with feathers and sacred symbols representing the sun and moon.

Symbolic of two of the most important Mandan deities, the Lord of Life and The Old Woman Who Never Dies, these effigies were associated with agriculture, chiefly the growing of corn, and the preservation of the buffalo herds. No major personal decisions or actions affecting the life of the tribe were made without first consulting these sacred totems, as the figure shown standing before this shrine appears to be doing.

At least three versions of this subject are known, engraved successively by Vogel, Himely, and Hurlimann and Himely. Vogel's print, presumably the earliest, shows a greater application of aquatint than other versions. The solitary figure at left also shows a marked difference in the face or facial expression. Himely's plate presents a new or different background and sky, especially in terms of cloud configuration, carried over to the print credited to both Himely and Hurlimann, which corrects the figure to more closely resemble that of the original watercolor by Bodmer in the Joslyn collection. Some evidence on the plate suggests that Hurlimann simply re-worked the Himely plate to correct the figure, leaving the rest of the details the same.

The original watercolor version depicts a daytime setting. Subsequent aquatints represent an evening scene, with a rising moon in the background, added perhaps to achieve a heightened sense of the supernatural. The figures of horse and rider and other details of the village, at right, were not included in the watercolor.

See also Vignette XIV for other depictions of native shrines, effigies, and "medicine" signs.

Text by David Hunt, Director, Stark Museum, Orange, Texas, USA

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Original Print

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