Afro-Portuguese Ivories

Lidded Saltcellar, 15th–16th century
Sierra Leone; Sapi-Portuguese

rank women rest hands genitalia emphasizing fertility hold swords shields

Saltcellar: Portuguese Figures, 15th–16th century
Nigeria; Edo peoples, court of Benin

design european collections survived intact believed intended gift patrons table

Ivory Spoon, 16th century
Sierra Leone; Sapi-Portuguese

Afro Portuguese Ivories Afro Portuguese Ivories

Ivories from the west coast of Africa were for the most part the first African artifacts brought back to Europe through trade. The discovery of vast quantities of West African ivory, called “white gold” in Europe, transformed the nature of African-Portuguese trading in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. As Portuguese wealth increased at this time, so did taste for these luxury goods. Ivory’s enormous commercial value led African leaders to carefully control its distribution and use.

Emma George Ross
Department of Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ross, Emma George. “Afro-Portuguese Ivories”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2002)

Further Reading
  • Fagg, William. Afro-Portuguese Ivories. London: Batchworth Press, 1959.

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