II. Gold-working techniques and producers continued

Despite the requirement to melt down old ornaments, a small but significant proportion of the regalia in the Museum’s collection bears traces of repair. Repairs are restricted to soldered patches that have been applied to miscast or broken areas, especially around suspension holes, loops and lugs where the greatest wear occurs (see nos 1.2 and 7.2). Evidence of wear and tear clearly points to age and usage and occasional repairs to such items appear to contradict the idea that gold ornaments were routinely melted down. Instead, this practice suggests that, in some cases, the Asante may have appreciated old gold ornaments for their aesthetic and sentimental value and taken steps to conserve them. Interestingly, there are a number of pristine items that show no traces of wear or tear at all in the collection (see nos 10.2, 3.31 and 6.4). The absence of signs of use points to the possibility that these items were either newly cast or formed part of the gold reserve held in the palace treasury at Kumase when they were discovered and removed.

There is compelling evidence to suggest that certain designs and motifs were also repeatedly used to decorate some important items of Asante royal regalia. The British Museum’s collection includes two disc pendants and a circular sword ornament which have identical bow and arrow motifs (see nos 2.7, 2.11 and 3.9). These discs were all collected at different times but the similarities in their forms and decoration lends credence to the idea that they represent a sequential series of related artefacts that were known by the same name, had the same status and functioned within the same contexts. When one example was worn, damaged or lost a copy was made, and analysis of these three examples indicates slight variations in the execution of the decoration which is consistent with their having been fashioned by different craftsmen at different times.

The evidence for the repeated use of certain forms and designs through time reinforces the notion that some symbolism was so important that it always featured on royal regalia, whereas other motifs enjoyed recurring episodes of popularity. There are many examples where the same abstract geometric and representational symbolism has been used. These include the equal-arm cross design, concentric banded circles, swirls and foliate motifs that decorate a variety of disc pendants, disc beads and finger-rings collected between 1818 and 1982. Several European-derived forms are also found on items of regalia that were cast many years apart such as bells (see nos 3.43, 3.44 and 3.45), keys (3.55, 15.3 and 6.12), as well as forms associated with Islam. Interestingly, the repoussé patterns which decorate the precious metal casings of Islamic amulets in the collection are similar to those found on disc pendants and beads, which underlines their function as devices for spiritual protection (see nos 15.1 and 15.2 and compare with 2.16 and 13.6).

 

Other items in the collection are associated more closely with the work of Baule goldsmiths from the Cote d’Ivoire as discussed earlier (see nos 1.5, 1.8, 2.24, 2.25, 2.26, 2.27 and 4.9). Their inclusion in regalia that was collected in the late 19th century may indicate that some sort of contact was maintained between the two peoples following the migration westwards of the Baule to their present location in the Cote d’Ivoire some time after ad 1730. The characteristic technique capitalizes upon the textural interest that is created when the original wax thread construction of the wax model is allowed to show through on the finished casting. The borrowing of Baule and Islamic forms and motifs by the Asante occurred over a long time period and their inclusion in regalia assemblages highlights the importance that was attached to these sources of trade and wealth.

The same is also true of the Asante appropriation of European forms and decorative devices. One of the best examples of this is seen on a magnificent sword ornament (abosodee) which appears to be modelled on a late 18th- or early 19th-century piece of European silverware (no. 13.11). It is possible that the original vessel had been sent as a diplomatic gift to the Asantehene or was captured during one of the Asante invasions of the coast. Several visitors to the Asante court in the 19th century describe seeing large amounts of Portuguese, Dutch and British silver plate in the palace of Asantehene Osei Tutu Kwame Asibey Bonsu, some of which had been captured from the Fante in 1807 and 1816 (Bowdich 1819, Dupuis 1824). The Asante goldsmith who modelled this piece re-created all of the intricate moulded decoration that was fashionable on European silverware but curiously inverted the swag and tassel motif that encompasses the circumference of the vessel so that it appears upside down. This item would originally have been attached to one of the important state swords on which public oaths of loyalty were sworn.

Other items in the collection that show evidence of European influence include a hollow lost wax casting that was probably intended to be a pendant (no. 1.9). The decoration on the larger end is reminiscent of 18th-century scroll-work and classical acanthus leaf motifs. Other pieces, whose decoration may have been inspired by architectural ornamentation, include a finger-ring with shoulders, cast in the shape of classical acanthus leaf pilasters (no. 7.21). Several beads and finger-rings also feature scroll-work (see nos 7.21 and 4.10). One in particular is modelled on a European signet ring with an oval bezel surrounded by strap-work, which resembles architectural designs that were popular in late Victorian England c. 1890s (no. 7.19).