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Carved Wooden Axe Handle or Sceptre Shaped as an Antelope
Tsonga or Zulu, South Africa or Zambia/Zaire
19th century

length: 52.5cm

This fine, ceremonial axe handle or sceptre has been shaped as an antelope with long pointy horns. The handle is brown but with blackened horns, muzzle
and detail on the shaft. The cheeks are decorated with incised scarrification.

Such handles seem to have been used more as sceptres rather than as actual axes. They were fitted with weak, small blades. The relative lack of functionality
of these blades underscores such items' ceremonial or ritual use.  The example here appears not to have been fitted with a blade at all although a cavity is
present through which a blade could be fixed.

Christie's Paris in their 'Art Africain et Oceanien' sale of June 20, 2006, had a very similar antelope handle (fitted with a blade) which is ascribed to Zambia (lot
225). Click
here to see this example. Another similar antelope axe and handle, collected in 1900, comprised lot 170 of Christie's London, 'Tribal Art' sale, June
22, 1981.

Another similar example, not fitted with a blade but again carved with an antelope's head, is illustrated in Coquet (1998, p. 115) and is described as a wooden
sceptre from the Nyamwezi people of Tanzania. The Nyamwezi are a Bantu group of southern Africa, a group which includes the Tsonga and Zulu.

The example here is rithout losses or restoration. There is an old, stable, superficial crack to one side of the head (to be expected) and minor scuffing or
scratching elsewhere. Overall, it has a fine patina consistent with a 19th century dating.

References:
Coquet, M.,
African Royal Court Art, University of Chicago Press, 1998.
Giblin, J., & C. Spring,
South Africa: The Art of a Nation, Thames & Hudson/The British Museum, 2016.

Provenance: UK art market

Inventory no.: 4121

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