- Museum number
Salt cellar (part of) made of ivory.
- Production date
Height: 22 centimetres
Width: 11 centimetres
Depth: 10 centimetres
- Curator's comments
O.M. Dalton & C. H. Read, Antiquities: The City of Benin and other parts of West Africa (1899):
“Ivory standing cup in two stages. It is elaborately carved in openwork, the design being two spheres connected by a column, and around which are riding two Europeans accompanied by two other figures, one a European, the other a native. The cavaliers are beardless, with long straight hair, and dressed alike in small cap, tight vest with sleeves, and a base or pleated skirt reaching to the knees; decorated hose and plain shoes without spurs. One carries a staff which is grasped by the smaller European figure, and wears a dagger; the other has a kind of battleaxe. The horses wears rich head-stalls and their necks seem to be clothed, while each has a string of bells (grelots) and a tube strung on a cord. A single rein is attached to the near side.
The small European figure is unarmed, but otherwise dressed like the cavaliers. The native is naked; his right hand, now broken, apparently held a palm branch. The upper sphere would represent a tree, in which the native’s left hand is grasped by the hand of a European, whose face, with others similar, appears among the branches. The lower sphere is carved in a lozenge pattern, amidst which appears a human face. It has pierced loops at the two sides through which a cord would pass. The cover is of European make. The original fitted into holes in the heads of the two smaller figures.”
W.P. Fagg, Afro-Portuguese Ivories (Batchworth Press, London, 1959):
“Two armed Portuguese horsemen are attended by a smaller Portuguese and a naked African figure.
The relief designs on the undersides of the two compartments include European faces; the upper sphere represents a tree.”
Fagg suggests that the lid which the saltcellar is depicted with is in fact a later example of European turned work.
Ezio Bassani and William B. Fagg, Africa and the Renaissance: Art in Ivory (1988):
H. 18.2cm (lid missing)
Museum of Mankind, London (Inv.no.22.214.171.124. acquired in 1856)
“A single master is the carver of two salts [Af1856,0623.162.a-c & a salt in the Royal Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh] both of which depict two mounted, clean shaven Portuguese alternating with an attendant on the front and an angel on the back. Compared with those of the Master of the Heraldic Ship, these figures are slenderer and are characterised by a greater sense of movement, which reaches its maximum in the completely and unnaturally contorted angel figure. The converging lines formed by the heads and legs of the mounts, the equestrian’s weapon and the attendant’s arm show the artist’s formal sophistication. It is also revealed in the juxtaposition of solids and voids; in the way the angel is theatrically staged, by creating a background out of the decorative patterns of the Portuguese heads and costumes; and in the equal importance accorded to both front and back. These design elements are not haphazard, but conscious artistic choices, and serve to create an open, well balanced composition.”
“The small nude angel here crystalizes the hybrid nature of the Afro-Portuguese ivories. The angel is a European motif, but the nude portrayal of him, is not. The active, asymmetrical stance and the total lack of frontality is far from the African tradition. A lug (unpierced in this case) on which the angel is perched is typical of Bini work and would have served to align the lid and vessel correctly.”
Ezio Bassani, African Art and Artefacts in European Collections 1400-1800 (2000):
Cat. no. 796
Ethnic group: Edo? Yoruba (Owo)?
Provenance: Benin Kingdom (Nigeria)
Materials/size: Ivory, height 18.2 cm
Present Location: London, British Museum, Ethnography Department, inv. no. 126.96.36.199. Acquired in 1856. Undocumented.
Arrival in Europe: 1501-1600?
Ex collection: W. Maskell
The lid is a modern replacement
Refs. Bassani & Fagg 1988, no. 119; Curnow 1983, cat. 91; Dias 1992, 259; Fagg1959, nos. 14-8; Read & Dalton 1899, 35, pl. II/2
- On display (G25/dc5)
- Acquisition date
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number