African Ivories

African ivories

in old French public collections

The arrival in Europe of African ivories at the end of the 15th century, during the first wave of exploration, and at the beginning of the 19th century, when the continent was being divided up by the colonial powers, revealed the hitherto unsuspected existence of evolved African civilisations. While some of these ivories were made to be used within Africa, as was the case with, for instance, olifants, which were status symbols, others were made for Portuguese sailors, and were intended for export. This second group is identified by the term ‘Afro-Portuguese ivories’. These refined objects were especially prized by kings and princes, who valued exotic curiosities. This catalogue presents 25 African sculptures in ivory that originally came from the mouth of the Congo River, from Sierra Leone and present-day Nigeria. With its many large-scale photographs, and numerous documents (engravings, drawings, paintings…), this catalogue stresses the age and the wealth of the French collections, while enabling a greater appreciation of the context in which contacts between Europe and the Dark Continent took place.


112 pages in 15 cm x 20.5 cm format
ca. 100 illustrations
price : 12 €
Isbn 978-2-915133-74-5

Co-publication by the musée du quai Branly/Éditions Actes Sud

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exhibition curator

Ezio Bassani, specialist in African art

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