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Benin Kingdom, Nigeria

Saltcellar, Early 16th century

19.2 x 7.2 x 8 cm (7 9/16 x 2 7/8 x 3 3/16 in.)
Ethnographic Museum Antwerp, AE 1974.25.1-4

This two-chambered saltcellar is one of three known works by the same artist, who was a gifted member of Benin’s royal guild of ivory carvers, the igbesanmwan. Each object includes distinctive depictions of Portuguese horsemen; the horse on the lid of this piece probably also once carried a rider. In 16th-century Europe, salt was a luxury commodity that only the wealthiest could afford. Exotic saltcellars made of precious ivory preserved the valuable grains and reflected the affluence and worldliness of their owners.