This highly ornate brass vessel was made by the Ashante (or Asanti), from modern-day Ghana. It is shaped as a pedestal vessel, with a base section comprises numerous vertical strips of metal joining the base ring to the columnar body. The sides flare slightly to the midline, which is marked with a raised band. The lid is integral and hinged at the back; it fits tightly over the apex of the receptacle, ensuring a close and secure fit. The remains of a latch and strap locking device are mounted on the front of the piece. The ground is patinated and smooth, with a host of geometric designs based around low-relief incised herringbones, circles and triangles, with some floreate designs. The top of the lid is flat with a slightly raised rim, and bears a large zoomorphic scene of a leopard attacking what might be a pig. The rendering is extraordinary. The pig is fairly naturalistic, with a curved back, hanging head with protruding tongue and features carefully picked out in relief. The leopard is rearing up on its hind legs and attacking the pig’s right flank, and is decidedly schematic, with a very thick tail, spindly legs and its entire body covered with circular rosettes. The proportions of the piece argue that the sculptor was more familiar with the prey than the predator. While the significance of the piece is uncertain, the leopard is usually associated with kingship and the aristocracy in most West African states where they appear in artistic pieces, and it is likely that this example reflects something of the background of the person who once commissioned it. Condition is excellent.
The Ashanti/Asante are one of the many tribes that makes up the Akan polity. The Akuapem, the Akyem, the Ashanti, the Baoulé, the Anyi, the Brong, the Fante and the Nzema all share general cultural trends while maintaining separate tribal identities. Their society is highly ritualised, with numerous gods under a main deity who varies according to the group in question (Onyame – the Supreme One – is the Asante deity), and a host of lesser gods (Abosom) who are mostly connected with the natural world (earth, ocean, rivers, animals etc). The society is ruled by Asantahenes, and a host of minor chiefs who claim royal status through their connection with the land and the founders of villages upon it. One factor that unites the Akan is the fact that they took a golden stool as their emblem and rose up against the European invaders in the 18th century. The Ashanti live in the central portion of the country, and are arguably one of the most important groups from the artistic point of view. Their Akuaba dolls are one of the most recognisable forms on the continent, while their fascination with gold (which the Akan consider a physical manifestation of life’s vital force, or “kra”) has given rise to a plethora of artefactual and artistic production.
This vessel is known as a “kuduo”, which is cast using the lost wax process, and not to be confused with sheet-brass “forowa” vessels (which are used for containing food and fat, among other substances). Their use seems to have been variable, but they are always associated with elite personages within Asante society. Recorded uses include expensive items such as gold dust, gold weights and pearls, while other sources cite their use in religious ceremonies. They are very variable in terms of design, with an assortment of zoomorphic, anthropomorphic and geometric motifs which are assumed to have relevance for the different subgroups which produced them.
This is one of the most extravagantly decorated kuduos that we have seen. It is a highly ornate, attractive and even usable piece of African art, and a beautiful addition to any collection or sophisticated domestic setting.
Arthur, G. and Rowe, R. 1999-2001. Akan Metal Casting. Downloaded from http://www.marshall.edu/akanart/abrammoo.html
Bacquart, J-B. 2000. The Tribal Arts of Africa: Surveying Africa’s Artistic Heritage. Thames and Hudson, London.
T. Garrard, 1989. 'Gold of Africa'. Prestel-Verlag Publishing, Munich