Gold Weight in the form of a Portrait Mask
African, Ghana, Asante peoples
early to mid-20th century
Medium or Technique
Bronze, (copper alloy)
Not On View
Asante goldweights were used to counterbalance scales for the purpose of weighing gold. Originally made from wax moulds, the goldweights were an essential component of business transactions and were used by both the royal treasury and common people. Among the goldweights, there is a dynamic range of motifs that include abstract geometric patterns derived from Islamic sources, representational figures that relate to Asante proverbs, European military equipment, and royal regalia. Goldweights were highly valued by their owners and were treated with great care. Similarly, the smiths that made the goldweights were employed by local chiefs and enjoyed special status within the community. By the 1920’s most of the goldweights being produced were made for European collectors, who particularly liked the inventiveness of form and the miniature size of the highly detailed goldweights.
This portrait mask may not have originally been made for use as a goldweight. Many miniature portrait masks were made to be worn on festive regalia, but were subsequently used as goldweights.
Early 1990s, sold by Christie's, London to George Abrams, Waban, MA; 2009, gift of Abrams to the MFA. (Accession date: January 20, 2010)
Gift of George Abrams in memory of Maida Abrams