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This obvious exquisitely crafted Italian Fifties 18K rose gold bracelet chain is the carrier of an 18K yellow gold charm representing an African tribal mask.
Not only in style and appearance does this mask strongly resemble those of the African Lega tribe, situated in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Also, just as Lega masks are usually handheld or appended to the body, and not worn over the face -in contrast to typical masks from other African cultures-, this mask is also made to wear on the wrist and clearly not over the face.
Generally, exclusively the members of the highest ranks of this community are allowed to own and show these masks, which made the Lega mask to evolve into and serve as a sort of passport proving who you are and where you're from.
This bracelet could just be your permit to yet to discover worlds, who knows...
Antique jewelry object group: bracelet
Condition: excellent condition
- (more info on our condition scale)
Country of origin: Italy
Style: Vintage Fifties (of the twentieth century)
- See also: Fifties (of the twentieth century) or more info on styles
Period: ca. 1950
- (events & facts of this era, poetry of this era, fashion of this era)
Source of inspiration: African ethnic art
Material: 18K bi-color (yellow and pink) gold
- (more info on precious metals)
The high quality of this jewel doesn't only show in the way the mask is made, resembling etnic african workmanship, but also at the interior of the smaller links of the bracelet. These smaller links are half round from the inside. Not that such is necessairy but it shows the extra effort the master goldsmith has put into his work.
-Tribal mask of the African Lega community
This type of mask was used in the Bwami culture, a semi-secret association that organised the social structure and ensured the stability of the Lega community. Lega are a Bantu forest people of Central Africa, established mainly in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
This Bwami society has six ranks for men and three ranks for women and they primarily use masks to confirm their status.
There are two fundamental types of masks depending on size:
- Small masks, called 'Lukwakongo', are not worn on the face but used as a form of identification.
- Larger masks: 'Idimu', 'Muminia' (only for initiation rites) and 'Kayamba' (with horns).
These larger masks may be worn over the face as well as alsewhere on the body only by men belonging to the two highest ranks.
-The typical features of masks in Lega style:
- High eyebrow arches over a concave, almost heart-shaped face;
- Protruding eyes on either side of a long nose with a vertical line in relief;
- And a protruding open mouth.
Some masks also have holes along the chin to which a beard of plant fibres was originally attached.
The gold mask of this bracelet has even got a small whole in the chin, presumably to decorate it with a beard, just as is custom for the Lega masks.
'L'art des Lega', catalogue of the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris; 'Joyaux Lega' by Baeke & Rousseau.
Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.
Daniel Biebuyck, Lega Culture: Art, Initiation, and Moral Philosophy among a Central African People (University of California Press, 1973).
Dallas Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Museum of Cultural Masks
Hallmarks: '750' as the Italian hallmark for 18K plus the hallmark for the goldsmith, Nº59 in Verona, Italy (we couldn't find any more information on this goldsmith besides that he worked between 1953 and 1955)
- (more info on hallmarks)
Dimensions: length bracelet 20,20 cm (7,95 inch), height pendant 3,40 cm (1,34 inch)
Weight: 99,80 gram (64,17 dwt)
Reference Nº: 18354-0098
Copyright photography: Adin, fine antique jewelry
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