Sapi artist

Not on view

This oliphant is one of only six other side-blown horns carved by West African artists for a European clientele held in recorded collections. Oliphants were popular and valuable additions to European art collections, and several of them have been linked with some of Europe's most powerful courts of the time, including the houses of Habsburg, where they would have been prominently displayed in curiosity cabinets, or wunderkammer. Despite the limited number that survive today, fluted horns were frequently depicted on hunting scenes in tapestries of European nobility. The depiction and display of these intricately carved horns in early modern European courts demonstrates the value with which West African ivory carving was regarded globally.

As a product of sixteenth and seventeenth century Afro-European exchange, this oliphant reflects Sapi artisans' understanding and mastery of ivory carving, musical technology, and European aesthetic preferences. The lozenge-shaped mouthpiece carved partway down the inner curve is a development of West African horn production, which contrasts with European horns that feature the mouthpiece at the tip. The depictions of zoomorphic forms like the crocodile head became increasingly popular in this region from the sixteenth century onward, as a response to European preferences for anthropomorphic and zoomorphic arts. The careful detailing of the crocodile’s teeth, scales, and eyes shows the technical skill of Sapi carvers. Thus, looked at as a whole, this oliphant speaks to an intense moment of intercultural trade in which West African artists deftly balanced regional techniques and technologies with global demand.

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