Trophy head
  • Trophy head
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Ghana
  • Date: 18th or 19th century
  • Medium: Gold
  • Height: 20 cm
  • Width: 14.5 cm
  • Depth: 14 cm
  • Weight: 1.36 kg
  • Inv: OA1683
  • Location: Oriental Armoury
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  • This spectacular trophy head was made in the state of Asante, in present-day Ghana. The Asante built one of Africa’s most powerful states, famous for military might and vast wealth. They controlled extensive gold resources and were renowned for the objects they made from this precious metal. Their political and cultural centre was Kumasi, where Asantehene (king of Asante) had his palace with an impressive gold treasury. This head is among the most important and famous works of Asante art.

    The trophy head depicts a decapitated high status enemy. Such heads would have been attached to ceremonial swords. State swords belonged to Asante regalia – objects owned by the state and intended for public display. The Asante employed different sword ornaments, including gold heads, often called ‘heads of Worosa’. The latter was chief of the northern Banda state who, reputedly, was assassinated by Asantehene Osei Kwadwo for killing Asante traders, possibly around 1765. The first casting of Worosa’s head was probably made soon after, and more representations followed. Given its wear and damage, the head in the Wallace Collection might have been an early cast.

    The head was taken from Kumasi by British forces during the Anglo-Asante war of 1873–4. It was sold to Garrard & Co. Ltd, the Crown Jeweller in London, from whom Sir Richard Wallace bought it together with a few more Asante objects, including swords, knives and gold rings.