Miniature Adz (Primary Title)

Unknown (Artist)

14th–18th century
copper alloy
Africa,Mali,Niger Inland Delta Region
Overall: 2 × 7/8 in. (5.08 × 2.22 cm)

In Mali, the ancient cities of Djenne to Timbuktu lie along the Niger River about two hundred miles apart. Discoveries of terracotta statues, metalwork, and pottery in the Djenne region during the 1940s opened a new chapter in the history of African art.

This object is made of copper alloy, most likely brass—a mixture of copper and zinc. It is difficult to date works of this type precisely, but they were probably made between the 14th and 18th centuries. Their greenish color results from oxidation of the copper. When first made, they would have been polished to a shiny golden luster.

Djenne and Timbuktu factored prominently on the Saharan trade routes connecting to the Mediterranean basin. Given the absence of copper as a natural resource in western Africa, works of this type demonstrate its import across the desert, usually from Morocco, where supplies often originated from as far away as Europe. Gold and salt were among the primary products of exchange in return.

Objects of this type in the VMFA collection include: 92.25, 92.30, 92.33, 92.35, 92.36.1, 92.37, 92.39, 92.187, 92.222, 92.228, 92.43, 92.57, 92.62.1–.3, 92.62.5

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Philip M. Nesmith in Memory of Fisher H. Nesmith, Jr.
Fortune, Courage, Love: Arts of Africa’s Akan and Kuba Kingdoms from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, William King Museum, Abingdon, Virginia, March 28 - July 12, 2015; Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, Virginia, September 26, 2015 - January 3, 2016; Piedmont Arts, Martinsville, Virginia, January 16 - March 6, 2016

Image released via Creative Commons CC-BY-NC

Some object records are not complete and do not reflect VMFA's full and current knowledge. VMFA makes routine updates as records are reviewed and enhanced.