Published: December 18, 2001
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – A dazzling African gold exhibition from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) is on view at the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, marking the first full exhibition exchange between the two institutions since they formed an international partnership in October 2000.
“African Gold: Selections from the Glassell Collection, Museum of Fine Art, Houston” comprises a selection of 131 objects from the collection given to the MFAH by Alfred C. Glassell, Jr, chairman emeritus and Life Trustee. It is the only substantial collection of African gold in an American museum. The exhibition is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and will be on view at the State Pushkin Museum through March 3.
“In receiving this exhibition of unique rdf_Descriptions from the most important collection of African gold in the world, we give our visitors the opportunity to expand their understanding of art, for our museum does not have similar cultural artifacts,” said Irina Antonova, director of the Pushkin Museum. “We hope this exhibition will be met with great interest and elicit a lively response from the museum audience.”
From ancient times, gold has been associated with wealth and power in cultures throughout the world. From the Fifteenth Century, European merchants wrote about the richness of African gold objects used for adornment and public display. The royal courts of the Akan people in Ghana were reportedly the most splendid in Africa.
The exhibition showcases works from the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries created by the Akan peoples of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, formerly called the Gold Coast. It includes court regalia – swords, knives, linguist staffs, crowns and soul washer badges used in ceremonies, processions and festivals – as well as rdf_Descriptions of personal adornment such as bracelets, cast gold bead necklaces, ear ornaments and rings.
Among the spectacular Akan military regalia included in the exhibition are swords carried by the chief’s attendants at oath-of-office ceremonies and in purification rites for the chief’s soul. These swords have no cutting edge and were never used for warfare. The sword handles are carved from wood and then covered in thin gold. Some are decorated with cast gold ornaments.
Cast gold ornaments in the exhibition represent the rich traditions of the peoples of the Ivory Coast. The objects were made in both abstract forms like crescents and disks and fanciful animal forms like snakes, crocodiles, fish and birds. Pendants in the form of human heads have been identified as portraits of friends, or ancestors and former kings. In earlier times, the pendants were worn frequently, but today old pendants are worn only for great occasions. More often they are part of the private treasury that determines a family’s position in local society.
Five Akan crowns on view demonstrate how the chiefs distinguish themselves with their choice of head adornment. In recent history, Akan chiefs favor crowns with head-bands and caps made from imported velvet and covered with many gold-leaf ornaments. The ornaments are made in a wide variety of designs including shells, leaves, flowers, butterflies, lions, Christian crosses and Islamic amulets. These figurative forms, like most in Akan art, are chosen for a purpose: to teach a lesson about the rights and duties of the chief or to demonstrate his good qualities.
The Glassell Collection of African Gold, which contains about 900 works, was given to the MFAH in October 1998. A portion of the collection was on view as a loan to the MFAH from 1990 to 1997, when the galleries in the Caroline Wiess Law Building were closed for renovation. Frances Marzio is curator of the Glassell Collections.
The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts was founded as Moscow’s Museum of Fine Arts in 1898. Initially a teaching collection at the University of Moscow, the museum’s remarkable collection grew out of the tumultuous history of Russia and the Soviet Union.
During the earliest years of Communist rule, the government nationalized the country’s important private collections. The Pushkin Museum received the extraordinary collections of Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov, visionary Moscow merchants who amassed two of the greatest collections of works by Gauguin, Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso and their contemporaries. Over the ensuing decades, key works from the Pushkin and the Hermitage were redistributed so that both museums could present the highest quality collections of European art in harmonious and historically logical grouping.
The Pushkin Museum now exhibits Western art from ancient times to the mid Twentieth Century, including the famous gold from Troy unearthed by Heinrich Schlie-mann in the Nineteenth Century. The centerpiece of the museum is its superb collection of paintings by Dutch, Flemish, Italian and French masters. Together with the museum’s remarkable collection of approximately 500,000 prints and drawings, these masterworks attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
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