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June 2011

the ‘Costume of a King’, the accoutrements of the figure in the ‘African War Dress’: the monkey-skin cap, the grass apron, the leather pouch, the wickerwork shield, the knife or dagger, and ‘a calabash or bottle’; (2) to establish where and when Pitt-Rivers acquired the gown, the guitar, and the spear—and anything else that may await discovery (there is mention in the records of ‘Admiral Denham’s sale’); and (3) to see if any further records survive relating to the voyage and the circumstances in which Denham made his collection. Emails have been sent to colleagues at the National Maritime Museum and elsewhere, and a research trip to the Hydrographic Office’s archives is being planned. For now, however, it is enough to be able to admire the skill of the gown’s maker and embroiderer—as well as that of the Illustrated London News’s artist—and the story to enjoy as yet another wonderful object in the Museum’s founding collection gives up at least some of its secrets.

Costume of a King (continued) T

Jeremy Coote, Curator and Joint Head of Collections, Pitt Rivers Museum

The research reported on here is being carried out as part of the project ‘Rethinking Pitt-Rivers: Analysing the Activities of a Nineteenth- Century Collector’ funded by a research project grant (number F/08 756/D) from The Leverhulme Trust (2009–2012).

Illustrations page 1: clockwise from bottom left)

Page 341 of The Illustrated London News for the week ending Friday 28 November 1846. Reproduced, with permission, from a photograph provided by The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford (shelfmark: N.2288 b.6).

Embroidered cotton gown, kusaibi. Made in Liberia or a neighbouring area of Sierra Leone or Guinea before 1846. Collected by Captain Denham of HMS Avon in 1845–6. Acquired from Denham by Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers by March 1874. Donated by General Pitt-Rivers to the University of Oxford in 1884 as part of the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum (1884.90.2).

Sir Henry Mangles Denham (1800–1887); from a lithographic portrait by Charles Baugniet, printed by M. & N. Hanhart. The original lithograph is signed ‘Baugniet 1849’ and the print is signed ‘Yours tr[uly] H. M. Denham’. From the collections of the National Library of Australia (PIC S11056 LOC 7499 / NLA.PIC–AN13521228).

The Man behind the Mask

expression contrasts with the emphatic and vigorous carving from neighbouring and more prominent peoples, such as the Kongo. Compare the mask with the aggressive Mavungu figure, which now faces it across the Court of the Museum.


The Pitt Rivers mask is the oldest of its type exhibited anywhere, and probably made its first European appearance at the Anthropological Society of London in 1867. It could be appreciably earlier in date, as it is believed to have been collected by Captain RBN Walker, who was working with a trading company between the mouths of the Ogowe and Congo rivers from the 1850s. Walker’s father, a midshipman at the Battle of Trafalgar, gave his son Robert Bruce Napoleon a string of heroic names to live up to. RBN seems to have taken eagerly to travelling round the notorious armpit of Africa, not noted for health and safety at the time, and corresponded with leading figures in exploration such as HM Stanley and Mary Kingsley. He took just as enthusiastically to a Mpongwe princess, Angoule Ikoutu, and their son André Raponda came to England in about 1870. The official Mrs Walker might not have been amused if she had lived long enough to meet him here, but in any event André Raponda was shipped back to Africa before RBN took a second regulation wife, the 18 year-old Minnie.

RBN was one of the sources from whom General Pitt-Rivers bought items for his prodigious collection. However, it is also possible that the Ivili mask was part of a job lot sold by the

his serene mask is possibly one of the items most envied by other museums, particularly those of the main former colonial powers in Central Africa. Its refinement of feature and

Above: Detail of sketch entitled ‘Costume of a King’ from page 341 of The Illustrated London News for the week ending Friday 28 November 1846. Reproduced, with permission, from a photograph provided by The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford (shelfmark: N.2288 b.6).

Left: Harp with gourd resonator with bow shaped hole in the bottom, 5 strings and 4 wooden strips running through animal skin membrane from the Pitt Rivers founding collection. Early documentation describes it as a guitar from Central Africa: country, cultural group and collector unknown (1884.113.5).


he challenges now, of course, are: (1) to discover the whereabouts of the other ‘curiosities’ described and sketched in the article—the ‘cap’ worn by the figure in the sketch depicting

Ivili Mask, from Gabon / Congo 1884.114.114

Anthropological Society for £40 to clear some space. Either way, it was a remarkably good buy.

Adam Butcher, Friend

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