20 Nov 2013 12:00pm - 2:00pm CRASSH, Seminar room SG1, Ground floor


Carved Things, Carved Identities: Early Modern Luso-African Ivories and the History of African Combs

Dr Sally-Ann Ashton (Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge)
Hair combs from Africa and the African Diaspora 1500-1900

Professor Jean Michel Massing (History of Art, University of Cambridge) 
The Sierra Leone ivory sculptures


Dr Ashton
This talk will consider both the types and sources of evidence, and the lack of evidence for this single category of object between 1500 and 1900. It will also consider what hair combs can tell us about the transference of culture from Africa to the Americas and Caribbean.

Prof Massing
That stone and ivory carving was practised in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is indicated by the stylistic similarities between certain nomoli and a group of ivories – the so-called Sapi-Portuguese ivories – datable to that period. This is confirmed by Valentim Fernandes (1506-1510), according to whom the Sapi carve “delicate works in ivory such as spoons, salt-cellars and bracelets.” He adds that “In Sierra Leone, the people are very skilful and very talented; all the objects we ask them to carve, they make truly marvellous works in ivory; some make spoons, others salt-cellars, others dagger hilts and other fine works.” He reiterates this point in another telling passage: “…they produce salt-cellars in ivory and spoons and whatever task one sketches for them, they carve it in ivory.” I will study this group of ivories and identify the French model used by the Sierra-Leone carvers, a Book of Hours printed by Thielman Kerver in Paris between 1509 and 1511.


Open to all. No registration required.

Things: Comparing Material Cultures 1500-1900 main page

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