Tattooed Wooden Leg

Tattooed Wooden Leg

Early 1800s
Culture
Polynesian
Locale
Marquesas Islands
Country
French Polynesia
Object
leg, model
Medium
Wood
Accession Number
1948.795
Credit Line
Native Arts acquisition funds

Marquesan artist, Tattooed Wooden Leg, Early 1800s. Wood; 22⅝ x 6 x 7¾ in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1948.795. Photography © Denver Art Museum

Dimensions
height: 22 5/8 in, 57.4675 cm; width: 6 in, 15.2400 cm; depth: 7 3/4 in, 19.6850 cm
Department
Native Arts
Collection
Arts of Oceania

Body tattoos were a highly regarded form of body ornamentation in Polynesia, with the most elaborate found in the Marquesas. Men often were almost completely covered with geometric and curvilinear designs created by trained and skilled specialists. 

The exact function of this wooden leg is not known today. Two very different theories exist: one, that it served as a design model in a tattoo artist's studio to show off a range of designs the artist could create; and two, that it was made as a decorative table leg. No matter what its original purpose was, it is extremely rare and is one of only thirteen known to exist today. 

Known Provenance
Unnamed New England family, 1860; Julius Carlebach, New York, NY, before 1948; Denver Art Museum, 1948