Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Benjamin West Soapstone Pipe Bowl (1770)

From the southern Great Lakes, North America
Mid-18th century AD
© Trustees of the British Museum

"Pipe bowl, of translucent greenish-white soapstone, carved, incised and painted, with a single metal ear ornament. The bowl is carved in form of a man's head, deep mouth with down turned corners, prominent chin, long sharp Roman nose, eyes formed from two deep incised lines leaving a raised eye between; the mouth and eyes are painted red, the deeply carved nostrils are unpainted. Both cheeks are incised with similar designs which seem to represent a vertical bar or rectangle from which extend, towards the ears, feathers [?], each represented by an acute angled triangle, two on the figures right cheek and three on the figures left cheek. 

The side of the figure's right ear is incised with a spray of five feathers, much more feather like than the triangles on the cheeks, perhaps with additional extensions, such as of hair, to the tips; the side of the figure's left ear is decorated with two incised lines, defining an arc, possibly filled with crude cross-hatching, joined at the top to two incised parallel straight lines extending onto the edge of the forehead. These incised decorations may represent tattoos, or painted decoration. 

The head is partially shaved, to form a central spray of hair, cut flat to form the top of the much used bowl. The ears, not realistically carved, are pierced for ear ornaments, horizontally. The ear ornament in the figure's right hand ear survives, roughly triangular, or more correctly a parallelogram, pierced with a hole for suspension, made of zinc, tin or silvered metal, the cord perhaps of a complex 19th century silk manufactured material. 

A further interesting detail is the clear delineation of a prominent Adam's apple. 

The flue has a roughly octagonal cross-section, with on the figure's left hand side the initials engraved on the vertical plane: 'I.T.' The end of the pipe bowl shows rather circular cutting marks, presumably, but not necessarily made by a metal saw. The two holes are conical in shape, suggesting that they were made with some form of aboriginal bow drill, rather than an imported-type European metal drill. The whole pipe has a very substantial patina, and is heavily marked." 

(Description by the curator of the British Museum)

Benjamin West Self Portrait, 1770

This pipe was the property of Benjamin West (1738-1820), the historical painter for George III, king of Great Britain and later of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1760 to 1820. 

Portrait of George III by Benjamin West, 1783

Among the artefacts West used as studio props, this pipe held a very special place: it served as a model for his depiction of an Indian chief in two of his most renowned paintings.

The Death of General Wolfe, 1770

The Death of General Wolfe, 1770 (detail)

William Penn's Treaty with the Indians, 1771-1772

William Penn's Treaty with the Indians, 1771-1772 (detail)

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