Among the earliest testaments to relationships established between Portuguese traders and African artists are the carvings of ivory saltcellars commissioned from Sapi sculptors for the European market in the 15th and 16th centuries. Based on designs and iconographies targeting the European market, these works were executed in a hybrid style in which Western body proportions and geometric decor such as beaded lines, a motif known as « Manueline » (after King Manuel I, who reigned over Portugal from 1495 to 1521) are merged with traditional stylistic elements of Sapi art, such as the bulbous eyeballs framed by bell-shaped lids.
Excerpt from Visions of Grace by Heinrich Schweizer, p. 64—2014, 5 Continents Editions, Milan.
The CT-scans of those 19th-century Burmese ivory stupas reveal their mysterious contents: standing statues of Buddha, finely carved by removing the debris through the openwork screen. Each Buddha, spreading out his robes with his hands, is surrounded by floral tendrils which form an encasement. The screen and the Buddha are carved from a single piece of ivory, as is proven by the unbroken root canal which runs vertically through the entire sculpture, quite a tour-de-force of workmanship. Indeed, the ivory comes from a hypertrophied incisor, necessarily innervated during the elephant’s lifetime. Votive shrines like these used to be donated to temples to gain Buddhist merit in the area of Mandalay, Myanmar.
The exhibition 'Kongo: Power and Majesty' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (Sept 18, 2015—Jan 3, 2016) explored the region's history and culture of Kongo masters from the late fifteenth through the early twentieth century. Admired as marvels of human ingenuity, selected Kongo artworks were preserved in princely European Kunstkammer, or cabinets of curiosities, alongside other precious and exotic creations from across the globe. Through the CT scan study of a couple of exhibited figures, this short video is a tribute to the MET groundbreaking exhibition regarding Central Africa's history... as well as a musical wink at Robert Farris Thompson, the renowned Yale africanist and art historian, who convincingly evoked in 'Tango: The Art History of Love' the often-obscured African roots of the dance, whose name comes from the Kongo word for "moving in time to a beat".
"Over the last forty years or so, central Mali and, more specifically, the Inland Niger Delta, have supplied the Western art market with hundreds of terracotta figures obtained through clandestine excavations. These so-called Djenne archaeological objects, most of which are figurative and date from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century, are now in museum and private collections. The lack of scientific data about their original context has led to considerable guesswork about just what they represent. To remedy this deficiency, we have called on Mande oral tradition that preserves the knowledge of the region as well as upon medical imaging to attempt an interpretation of some of these artworks."
Scrofulous Sogolon. Scanning the Sunjata Epic
Anne-Marie Bouttiaux & Marc Ghysels
Tribal Art magazine 2015, XIX-2, n°75, pp. 88-123
For a free online access to the full article, click here.
In 2006 Jean Willy Mestach (1926—2014) asked me to scan the smallest object of his collection. On the first anniversary of his passing, here is the revelation of its content.
The Iatmul people of Papua New Guinea kept the skulls of their ancestors which, once overmodelled with clay and then painted with designs, became familiar spirits and protectors of the community. They were used in funerary and fertility ceremonies where they were displayed atop of poles. The skull of the dead ancestor was decorated to imitate the facial painting of the deceased. Skulls of headhunting victims were similarly decorated and kept as trophies.
"The particular interest of this magnificent Fang spoon lies on the one hand in the very finely carved miniature face which adorns the top of the handle, and, on the other hand, with the monoxylous Janus figure (two figures back to back, a male, with a well indicated sex, and a female) inside the handle. This Janus figure appear to have been installed in a sort of ‘naos’, a sacred place par excellence. The proportions and volumes of the miniature Janus figure inside the handle evokes the work of the Fang Betsi of northern Gabon, which is fully consistent with the carving style of the small outer face." Louis Perrois, 2014
It was sold by Sotheby's Paris on December 10, 2014 for €169,500.
For more information about this spoon, click here
Simply for your viewing pleasure... and listening pleasure too ;-)
Its exceptional æsthetic qualities undoubtedly make this rare buffalo mask from the Democratic Republic of the Congo one of the best-known masterpieces in the Royal Museum for Central Africa. For many years, the bird at the back of the head was separated from the mask. In order to restore it to its place and find out more about the structure of the wood and the tree rings, the mask underwent CT-scan examination in January 2005 by Dr. Marc Ghysels. The object was restored by Georges Dewispelaere thanks to the sponsorship of the Inbev-Baillet Latour Fund.
To read more, click here
Myron Kunin (1928–2013) dedicated his life to beauty, both as a businessman and art collector.
Focusing on major works of outstanding quality, Kunin amassed one of the finest private collections of African Art in the world. One of the highlights of the group is this Fang-Betsi head from Gabon analysed here by CT-scan.
It was sold by Sotheby's New York on November 11, 2014 for $3,637,000.
To read more, click here
"By reusing bits of ancient clay found at excavation sites throughout China, forgers are producing objects that not only look convincing but also pass a scientific test widely used to date the pottery…"
Sophistication of Chinese counterfeits makes them harder to detect: can you tell the fake from the real?
Thomas Fuller - New York Times, May 3, 2000
To read more, click here
The full radiological report is available as a PDF
"Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Fang ancestral sculpture of Equatorial Africa figured among the most emblematic and esteemed genres of African art. These anthropomorphic effigies..."
To learn more about this world famous Fang head (byéri) and its radiological analysis, see:
A Masterwork that Sheds Tears... and Light - A Complementary Study of a Fang Ancestral Head
Roland Kaehr, Louis Perrois & Marc Ghysels
African Arts, Winter 2007, vol. 40(4), p.44-57 — free access
"Many museums and private collections in the UK, Europe, and the USA hold cultural artefacts of the type commonly referred to as mermen or ‘feejee mermaids’. Most of these are accompanied by little in the way of information about their origins, but they are generally associated with Asia and particularly with Japan [...]."
Viscardi, Paolo & Hollinshead, Anita & MacFarlane, Ross & Moffatt, James
Journal of Museum Ethnography, 2014, 27, 98-116
For a free online access to an earlier drafts of the paper, click here
"Male initiation rituals used to be of central importance for the Sepik River societies of Papua New Guinea. Among the Karawari-speaking Ambonwari they were characterized by two idiosyncratic song-dances: one associated with the spirit-crocodiles and the other with the bamboo flutes. Hence, the songs of the flute and crocodile were the most secret songs known only to a small number of 'big men’ [...]."
The poetics of the flute: fading imagery in a Sepik society
Telban, Borut (2014).
Folklore, 2014, 125 (1), 92-112
For a free online access to the paper, click here
The scan reveals the distiguishing element that justifies the conventional name of "Master of the Cascade Coiffures": the flow in a musical 'crescendo' of the oblique, descending volume of the hair, blocked in the frontal view through the peremptory line of the outstretched arms, and given further vitality through the bent knees in front.
Adapted from Ezio Bassani (2014)
It was sold by Sotheby's Paris on June 19, 2014 for €661,500.
Until the early 1950s, the Classic Veracruz ceramics were few, little understood, and generally without provenance. Since then, the recovery of thousands of figurines and pottery pieces — from
sites such as Remojadas — has expanded our understanding and filled many museum shelves. This Tlazolteotl Veracruz figure (800 to 1200 CE) is quite large and in exceptionally good condition
despite a few restorations, as revealed by the scan.
This Monkey figure is carved in the form of a baboon. It is meant to serve as a means of contacting a spirit force. The spirit is believed to possess an individual and assist that person in divining the future. The baboon form is meant to shock, intimidate, and impress with the power of the wild. To honor the spirit, offerings of blood, eggs and millet beer are made to the figure.
Click here to read more about a similar Baule monkey from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
"Bowl-bearing figures are central to Luba divination, for their placement next to the medium provides spiritual presence, while their bowls contain white chalk applied to the diviner’s face to instigate enlightenment through the symbolism of moonlight and the beneficence of the ancestors. The expressive quality of this figure from northeastern Luba-related peoples is characteristic of works by the so-called Buli Master, the first identified workshop and still among the most celebrated in all of Africa."
The King is a Woman. Shaping Power in Luba Royal Arts
Mary Nooter Roberts
African Arts, 2013, 46, (3), 68-81
For a free online access to the Mary Nooter Roberts paper, click here
This masterwork belongs to the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren # EO.0.0.14358