BODMER, Karl (1809-1893)
[Idols of the Mandan Indians] Offer der Mandan Indianer. Offrande des Indiens Mandans.
[Tab. 25] Paris and Coblenz: [1839-1842]. Hand-coloured aquatint engraving by Vogel. Titles in German and French. 1st state. Sheet size: 23 5/8 x 17 inches.
A highly atmospheric scene executed by Bodmer during the winter of 1833-1834 when the travelers stayed at Fort Clark on the banks of the upper reaches of Missouri River. The hide-wrapped poles represent the sun and the moon, which in turn are symbols of two of the most powerful Mandan deities: the Lord of Life (creator of all things) and the Old Woman Who Never Dies, who was associated with corn and buffalo. The Mandan standing before the effigies is apparently seeking the help of these sacred beings. In Mandan life no important decisions or undertakings were made without this sort of consultation, which generally involved fasting and offerings or sacrifices. Karl Bodmer's images show great versatility and technical virtuosity and give us a uniquely accomplished and detailed picture of a previously little understood (and soon to vanish) way of life. Swiss-born Bodmer was engaged by Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied (1782-1867) specifically to provide a record of his travels in North America, principally among the Plains Indians. In the company of David Dreidoppel (Prince Maximilian's servant and hunting companion), their travels in North America were to last from 1832 to 1834. Well-armed with information and advice, the party finally left St.Louis, on the most important stage of their travels, aboard the steamer Yellow Stone on April 10 1833. They proceeded up the treacherous Missouri River along the line of forts established by the American Fur Company. At Bellevue they encountered their first Indians, then went on to make contact with the Sioux tribe, learning of and recording their little known ceremonial dances and powerful pride and dignity. Transferring from the Yellow Stone to another steamer, the Assiniboin, they continued to Fort Clark, visiting there the Mandan, Mintari and Crow tribes, then the Assiniboins at Fort Union, the main base of the American Fur Company. On a necessarily much smaller vessel they journeyed through the extraordinary geological scenery of that section of the Missouri to Fort Mackenzie in Montana, establishing a cautious friendship with the fearsome Blackfeet. From this, the westernmost point reached, it was considered too dangerous to continue and the return journey downstream began. The winter brought its own difficulties and discomforts, but Bodmer was still able to execute numerous studies of villages, dances and especially the people, who were often both intrigued and delighted by his work. The portraits are particularly notable for their capturing of individual personalities, as well as forming a primary account of what was to become virtually lost cultures.
Graff 4648; Howes M443a; Pilling 2521; Sabin 47014; Wagner-Camp 76:1.