Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Salt cellar

Salt cellar

ca. 1490-1530

Two continents mingle together in this container. Africans carved the ivory, and left traces of their features in the faces. European elements are evident in the clothes, keys, and bands of decoration that are typical of architecture under Emanuel I, King of Portugal from 1495-1521. A Portuguese report identifies Sierra Leone as the source for the artistic talent who "could carve in ivory any work which we draw for them." After completion, such an ivory would have graced the dining table of nobility during the Renaissance.
12 3/16 x 7 7/16 x 4 1/2 in. (31 x 18.9 x 11.4 cm)
Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company
Provenance: Collection of John Wise (1902-1981), New York; sold to Katherine White (1929-1980), Seattle, Washington, 1961; bequeathed to Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington, 1981
Now on view at the Seattle Art Museum


Exhibition HistoryKansas City, Missouri, Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum, The Imagination of Primitive Man, 1962.

Cleveland, Ohio, Cleveland Museum of Art, African Tribal Images: The Katherine White Reswick Collection, July 10 - Sept. 1, 1968 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, University of Pennsylvania Museum, Oct. 10 - Dec. 1, 1968). Text by William Fagg. Cat. no. 52.

Los Angeles, California, Frederick S. Wight Art Gallery, University of California, African Art in Motion: Icon and Act, Jan. 20 - Mar. 17, 1974 (Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, May 5 - Sept. 22, 1974). Text by Robert Farris Thompson. No cat. no., pp. 112, 114, reproduced pl. 149.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Selections from the Katherine White Collection, Mar. 1, 1987 - Aug. 1, 1987.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, American Art: The Stories We Carry, Oct. 20, 2022 - ongoing.
Published ReferencesGrosz-Ngate, John H. Hanson, Patrick O'Meara, Africa: Fourth Edition, 2014, plate 8.12

Dark, Philip J. C., An Introduction to Benin At and Techonology, Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1973. a, b

Lamp, Frederick. "Cosmos, Cosmetics, and the Spirit of Bondo."vAfrican Arts, vol. 18, no. 3 (May 1985): pp. 36, 98, reproduced no. 15.

Joice, Gail, Michael Knight, and Pamela McClusky, Ivories in the Collection of the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA: Seattle Art Museum, 1987, no. 15, pp. 20-21

McClusky, Pamela. "Art of Africa." In Selected Works, pp. 35-52. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1991; p. 36, reproduced.

Blier, Suzanne Preston. "Imaging Otherness in Ivory: African Portrayals of the Portuguese ca. 1492." The Art Bulletin, vol. 75, no. 3 (Sept. 1993): p. 392, reproduced no. 18.

Hart, W. A.. Quaderni Poro: Continuity and Discontinuity in the Art History of Sierra Leone, 1995, ill. no. 10 (reproduction)

Seattle Art Museum: Bridging Cultures, London: Scala Publishers Ltd. for the Seattle Art Museum, 2007, pp. 58-59, illus. p. 58

Mellon, James. The Great African Bangle Culture. Douglas: Fruitful Publications, 2018; p. 109, reproduced.

Woodward, Richard B., et al. The Arts of Africa: Studying and Conserving the Collection Virgina Museum of Fine Arts. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020; p. 82, reproduced fig. 17.2.

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

Learn more about Equity at SAM