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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Archive : Loango Coast Carved Hippo Ivory Tusk
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Loango Coast Carved Hippo Ivory Tusk - DAC.001
Origin: Western Congo
Circa: 1870 AD to 1900 AD
Dimensions: 8.75" (22.2cm) high
Collection: African Art
Medium: Hippo Ivory
Condition: Extra Fine

Additional Information: sold

Location: UAE
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During the 16th century, Portuguese merchants began trading with coastal sub-Saharan African tribes. Ivory in particular was highly sought after, as it was one of the most expensive commodities in Europe at this time. The flourishing commerce and contact with Europeans began to influence the traditional arts, as native craftsmen, whose skill and expertise was much appreciated, began creating pieces specifically for foreign consumption. In order to appeal to Western tastes, sculptors began to incorporate outside forms, such as the saltcellar, and nonnative imagery. The accurate representation of costume details and other attributes attest to the carvers’ keen powers of observation. Over the centuries, contact between Europe and sub-Saharan Africa increased and trading companies were established in the lead up to the colonial era.

This carved tusk, likely from a hippo and not an elephant, comes from the Loango coast of western equitorial Africa, a historical zone stretching from the modern nation of Guinea south to Angola. Centered in the modern nation of the Republic of Congo, the Loango Kingdom was founded by the Vili people in the late 15th century. By the 16th century, they had established a commercial network that brought ivory and other luxury goods from the interior to the coast where they were sold and bartered to Europeans, primarily the Dutch and Portuguese. By the time this tusk was carved, during the late 19th century, slaves had long surpassed ivory as the dominant commodity. The inherent ravages this trade inflicted on the native societies directly contributed to the demise of the Loango Kingdom.

The term “Loango coast” refers to a style of carvings produced between the years of 1850- 1900 specifically as souvenirs for foreign merchants working for trading companies. It is believed that around six hundred such sculptures were made during this period. Compositionally, they are typically arranged with a spiraling frieze that spans the length of the tusk. Depicted along this frieze are a variety of scenes documenting daily life. Figures in traditional African dress are intermingled with figures wearing European costumes. Sometimes captured slaves bound in shackles are shown, as are rows of porters carrying goods upon their heads. This delicately carved tusk reveals the mastery of Loango coast artists. The details of European costumes are accurate, enough so that we can date this piece to after 1870, based on the detail of a figure wearing a pith hat, which became popular with Westerners in the tropics beginning in 1870. - (DAC.001)


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