P185 – Interpreting African Ivories in the Atlantic World (15th-19th centuries)
8 July, 17:30-19:00

da Silva Horta José / Center of History-Univ. of Lisbon, FLUL
Afonso de Oliveira Luís Urbano / ARTIS-Art History Institute, FLUL


Ivory occupied a central role in many African societies. Its possession and circulation were dependent on monopolies controlled by local political power. Before the rise of guns, the gathering of ivory was a collective hunting enterprise with implied cosmological meanings for both hunters and ivory carvers. As a desirable and valued good the internal and external markets, ivory, carved and raw, served as diplomatic and private gifts sealing commercial and political relations. In terms of material culture, carved African ivories are one of the most elaborate artistic creations, produced in different times and varied historical contexts. In addition, raw African ivory was used as a material component of a wider range of artworks produced throughout the Atlantic world, such as furniture and other luxury items, a rich field for future research. The history of production is crucial to an accurate interpretation of all these objects, an approach, which aims to revise the conclusions of a stylistic, centered interpretation.

 Interpretando os marfins africanos no Mundo Atlântico (séculos XV-XIX)
O marfim ocupou um papel central em muitas sociedades africanas. A sua posse e circulação dependiam de monopólios controlados pelo poder político local. Antes da difusão das armas automáticas, a obtenção do marfim era uma empresa de caça coletiva carregada de significados cosmológicos para caçadores e escultores de marfim. Sendo uma mercadoria desejável e valorizada nos mercados internos e externos, o marfim em bruto e trabalhado foi utilizado como instrumento diplomático, selando relações comerciais e políticas. Em termos de cultura material, os marfins africanos são uma das criações artísticas mais elaboradas, produzidos em diferentes épocas e em variados contextos históricos. Além disso, o marfim africano em bruto foi usado como um componente de uma gama alargada de obras de arte produzidas em todo o Mundo Atlântico, nomeadamente em móveis e outros artigos de luxo. A história da sua produção é fundamental para uma interpretação precisa de todos esses objetos e para a revisão das conclusões decorrentes de interpretações baseadas em critérios estilísticos.

Paper 1

Mark Peter / Centro de História – Universidade de Lisboa, FLUL

L’idée du “style”, la méthodologie historique, et les ivoires “Luso-africaines”

Les salières (salt cellars) en ivoires sont d’origine Sapes; ils ne sont pas “Bini.” Pour établir la provenance, il faudrait les situer dans un contexte historique du commerce entre les Portugais et les Africaines en ‘Guiné de Cabo Verde’ au 16e et au début du 17e siècle. Il faut commencer par les sources écrites, contemporaines de ces objets, sources écrites par des commerçants portugais. Ces objets furent créés par des “Sapes,” mais le terme “Sape” ou “Sapi” n’est pas le nom d’une ethnie; plutôt “Sapes” signifie plusieurs ethnies qui habitaient la Sierra Leone et la Guinée-Conakry actuelles: Temne, Bulom, Nalu, Baga, inter alia. La production des ivoires sapes est documentée par les sources portugaises pendant un siècle et demi, à partir de 1506. L’historien de la culture devrait accorder une importance prioritaire aux sources écrites, datées, et qui représentent des témoignages contemporains. Pour les ivoires, nous disposons de 5 auteurs, des Portugais et des Luso-Africains, dont les ouvrages datent de 1505, 1506, 1593-4, 1615, et 1625.

Paper 2

Horta José da Silva / Centro de História-Universidade de Lisboa, FLUL

Afonso de Oliveira Luís / ARTIS-Art History Institute, FLUL

Books and olifants: Luso-African relations in Western Africa

Luso-African ivories are one of the most elaborate artistic creations within the Atlantic World encounters. Produced during the early stages of proto-globalization, these works are a remarkable base for the study of cultural interaction in terms of visual arts. The paper addresses the questions related with the circulation and reception of Late-Medieval European books and iconographic motifs among the African societies and workshops of the Upper Guinea Coast. A three-step approach is followed, moving from the objects and their European models to the Luso-African context of production. First we focus on a specific type of Sapi-Portuguese pyxes and olifants produced in “Serra Leoa” (Guinée, Sierra Leone) and/or southern Guiné-Bissau between the late 15th century and c.1600. These ivories represent religious themes, heraldry and cynegetic motifs of clear European origin. This first step leads us to the analysis of the role played by European incunabula and later books in the process of artistic transfers, namely the Portuguese version of a Book of Hours printed in Paris in February 1501 (Horae Beatae Maria Virginis). Finally, we discuss the Luso-African setting which made this specific type of production possible. In the one hand, the role played by Luso-Africans as cultural brokers, namely in trade and informal Christianization. In the other hand, the impact of religious books in this Western African context and its possible meanings to the African artists.

Paper 3

Almeida Carlos / Centro de História – Universidade de Lisboa/IICT, Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino

Cantinho Manuela / Geographical Society of Lisbon/Centro de História – Universidade de Lisboa

Ivory in Kongo-Portuguese relations. Some contributions.

In 1489 an embassy of Mani Kongo arrives in Portugal. The African sovereign dignitaries made delivery of the gifts brought to the King of Portugal: beyond the raffia cloths, according to the chronicler Rui de Pina, there was also some elephant tusks and “other ivory things” whose brightness strongly impressed the chronicler. On the occasion, the ambassador would have expressed interest of his sovereign in the Christian faith, and in the further development of the relationship between Portugal and the Kongo. Since the beginning of this long relationship between the kingdoms of the Central Africa region and Europe, the ivory and the Christian faith were central elements in the complex dialogue of those two cultural worlds. Heritage of diferent kinds, both were subject to appropriations, transformations and resignifications in a common path in which materials and ideas intersect in the manufacture of articles, in its stylistic construction, decorative programs, and symbolic value. In this paper it is carried out a study on the context of producing ivory objects in the Central African region and the importance of ivory in commercial and ceremonial exchanges between Portugal and the Kongo. Secondly, we analyze an ivory spoon offered to the Geographical Society of Lisbon in the 1890s by Julio Augusto Mourão, manager of the Dutch trading post in Kongo. We will present a proposal for the interpretation of its decorative elements as well as to its probable dating.

Paper 4

Santos Vanicléia Silva / Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brasil

Froner Yacy-Ara / Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brasil

Collections of ivory in Minas Gerais: documents, circulation, aesthetics and materiality

The Portuguese Atlantic trade cross-cultural contact gave origin to an extensive material culture. The ivory collections in Minas Gerais, Brazil, between the 16th and 19th centuries are the paper focus. These ivory works, reflecting religious or secular themes, are approached through their material and documentary aspects. This research is part of a larger ivory research project: “The Luso-African Ivories: Inventory, Written Sources, Material Culture and the History of Production”. Three complementary paths are followed: 1) a survey of ivory collections and its documentation in Minas Gerais 2) textual study of ivory material culture in wills and post-mortem inventories, considering the movement of objects, uses, aesthetics and reception, demand, trade and wealth markers; 3) using technical approaches from Art History to research the technological production (interpreting tool marks, assembly clues, polychromic finishes used on the ivories) and identification of the raw materials (employing analytical methodologies to generate a hypothesis about the circulation of ivory around the Portuguese colonial world). Few studies have used these cross-methodological approach to illuminate how the various aspects of ivory production, circulation, and collecting are related. This integrated study proposes to examine the ivories from this broad approach in order to expand our knowledge about the fabrication, artistic training, and circulation of raw materials and finished pieces.

Paper 5

Kingdon Zachary / National Museums Liverpool

Nineteenth Century Carved Tusks from the Loango Coast in the African Collection of World Museum Liverpool

Loango carved tusks from the second part of the 19th century have primarily been viewed as an early genre of art that catered largely for European tastes and demand. But this type of interpretation tends to neglect the pre-colonial context in which the carved tusks emerged. Drawing on the collections and records of the World Museum Liverpool, this paper interprets 19th century carved ivory tusks from the Loango coast as innovative sculptural works that emerged at a significant point on a trajectory of changing relations between Europeans and Africans. By placing 19th century Loango carved tusks in relation to other cultural innovations from the Central African coast on the same trajectory, the paper aims to show how such works can be more convincingly viewed as expressing the concerns and agendas of Central Africans in the face of changing political and socio-economic conditions.

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