- Museum number
Oliphant; horn made of elephant ivory. Mouthpiece at tip of horn emerging from fanged jaws of animal head. One eye inlaid with metal. Centrally placed suspension lug. Surface of horn carved throughout in low relief; combines images of fantastic European creatures and African animals such as crocodiles and serpents. Central hunting scene with stag, boars and bears. Base of horn carved with an armillary sphere, the Coat of Arms of the Portuguese royal house and the cross of Beja. Base of horn fitted with silver-gilt rim.
- Production date
- 1490-1530 (circa)
Height: 44 centimetres
Width: 7.30 centimetres
Depth: 8.90 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Read & Dalton, 1899:
'Hunting horn, of ivory, of European form, having the opening at the end. The decoration is entirely in relief, and consists principally of hunting scenes. The mouthpiece issues from the head of an animal encased in a kind of head stall; a raised band separates this from a short section in the form of a ribbed and twisted column, the ribs and hollows of which are beaded. The two succeeding compartments, divided from each other by a band resembling a heraldic torse, contain scenes from the chase: a man in cap and high boots, hunting a stag with dogs, blows his horn and holds one dog bya twisted cord; another European attacks a stag face to face with a spear; a lion wearing a crown attacks a tiger; and a centaur is shooting an arrow at a harpy-like creature which is attacking its hind-quarters. The end compartment contains also similar hunting scenes, including flying birds, and as a central device two large birds with their long necks symetrically intertwined. On one side of these is the shield of Portugal, the lower point ending in a twisted bar, which is held by an angel. The shield is surmounted by a crown which hides the three castles that should complete the border in chief. On the opposite side of the horn is the armillary sphere that now forms the arms of Brazil, surmounted by a cross and pennon. Between the two is the crosss of the military Order of Christ. This cross with the armillay sphere is found on the coins of Portugal from the end of the fifteenth century. As a means of suspension the bodies of two crocodiles and a snake are in relief on the inner curve. The mouth is protected by a European mount of copper gilt.'
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1982-1983 Oct-Apr, London, Museum of Mankind, Afro-Portuguese Ivories
1997-1998 Sep-Jan, Osaka, National Museum of Ethnology, Images of Other Cultures
1998, Feb-Apr, Tokyo, Setagaya Art Museum, Images of Other Cultures
2007, Mar- Jun, China, Beijing, Palace Museum, Britain Meets World
2011 June-Sept., South Korea, Ulsan Museum, Fantastic Creatures
2012 Jan-April, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Fantastic Creatures
2021-2022, 23 July - 23 Jan, Berlin, Humboldt Forum, Terribly Beautiful. Elephant – Man – Ivory
- Good; small hole near base and chip from tip. Silver-gilt mount loose at one side. Three non-mobile splits from back of base. Metal inlay missing from animal's right proper eye.
- Acquisition date
- 1753 (?)
- Acquisition notes
- It seems likely that this horn corresponds to the 'ivory hunting horn or trumpet' listed in Sir Hans Sloane's catalogue of Miscellanies (Sl.723). The entry refers to similar horns such as the 'aureum cornu' (Danish golden horn) published by Ole Worm in 'Monumentorum Danicorum Libri Sex' (1643). In this volume Worm illustrates, for comparison with the Danish horn, two 'Florentine horns' which have now been identified as Sapi-Portuguese. These horns were formerly in the collection of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Florence; one is now in the collections of the Hermitage, Leningrad (F.576) and the other is in the Musee National des Thermes et l'Hotel de Cluny, Paris (Cl.1859). Both horns share similar stylistic characteristics to the BM horn and feature hunting scenes and mythical creatures arranged in registers.
The horn was not, however, identified by AW Franks when checking the Sloane catalogue in the 1850s. It was in the collections of the Department of Medieval Antiquities and Ethnography before 1899 (see Read below) and is likely to have been transferred with other ethnographic material when that department was established in 1866.
Charles H Read notes in his Preface to 'Antiquities from the City of Benin' (read & Dalton , 1899) that: '... the present publication contains a selection of the principal objects obtained by the recent successful expedition to Benin... . To these are added a number of ivory carvings made under Portuguese influence, which have been in the Museum for some time.'. This horn is described and illustrated in the volume but details of its acquisition are not given.
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: NN.25 (No Number series)