South Africa or Kingdom of Swaziland, Southern Africa
North Nguni peoples
H. 24 13/16 in. (63 cm)
Purchase, Anonymous, Richard, Ann, John, and James Solomon Families Foundation, Adam Lindemann and Amalia Dayan, and Herbert and Lenore Schorr Gifts, Rogers Fund, and funds from various donors, 2013
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 352
Carved from a single piece of wood to which a matching lid was added, this monumental vessel was made by a sculptor from the vicinity of Port Natal (modern Durban) whose clientele likely included local elites as well as international patrons. The surface is defined by deep, parallel incised ridges that are rounded and divided into blocks of juxtaposed verticals and horizontals. Beyond the vessel's visual impact as a tour de force of carving, its original function remains unclear. Analysis of the interior surfaces of the wood found no residue of substances that it might once have contained, indicating that the vessel may have been intended as a stand-alone work of art rather than a functional container, a testament to its creator's virtuosity.
Halifax Literary and Philosophical Society Museum, Halifax, UK; [William Ohly, London and New Barnet, UK, until (d.)1955]; by descent to Bienchen Ohly, London, until 2010; [Douglas Barrett, London, 2010–2012]; [Kevin Conru, London, 2012–2013]