Cape Nguni Zoomorphic Snuff Container - South Africa

This rare and lovely cow-shaped snuff container is one of only a few known examples of its type. Of plainly zoomorphic form and so very unlike other snuff containers of the region, it belongs to the same distinct class as the bull-shaped container illustrated earlier in this catalogue. To create this figure, a special mixture of hide scrapings was first worked over a sculpted core of clay. Allowed to dry to the consistency of leather, the surface was then picked with a sharp implement to produce the pointed protrusions. This raised pattern is reminiscent of the Zulu amasumpa motif, which symbolizes herds of cattle – perhaps the ultimate icon of temporal wealth and ancestral influence for the tribes of South Africa. An excellently crafted piece such as this would have carried with it powerful indications of status.

Mid-19th century
5 1/2” l 3 1/2” h
Animal skin, clay
Provenance: Private European collection; Agnes Woliner, Paris; private American collection; Bonhams 2011
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