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Karl Bodmer's Illustrations to Prince
Maximillian of Wied-Neuwied's Travels in
the Interior of North America 1832-34
Published in Association with the
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska

Bodmer's America

Catalogue of Prints

Idols of the Mandan Indians [Item Image]
engraved in two or three different versions
or plates by Vogel, Himely, and
Printed by Bougeard
Tableau 25. Idols of the Mandan Indians

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 Vignettes XIV, XV, and XXI for other depictions of native shrines, effigies, and "medicine" signs.

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

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