Gold ornaments from the Hartmann Collection

Royal arts of the Akan people

Photo: Eliot Elisofon Archive, Smithsonian Institution

Anyone who has studied the art of West African gold objects and their production „knows the technical abilities of their artists to produce objects of the highest technical sophistication with the simplest conceivable means“, as Georg Eisner formulated it in his scientific report from 2008, which is largely referred to here(1).

„The first European travellers noticed with what skill objects were finely cast that did not seem attainable in their own countries“.

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The gold production of the Akan probably began as early as the second half of the 15th century. Gold dust („sika futuro“) was the common currency of the Ashanti kingdom until it was abolished in the wake of the Ashanti wars at the end of the 19th century.

Among the techniques of metal-working

- hammering
- filigree and
- casting,

the casting process with its complex lost wax casting and wax thread technology occupies a special position. The success of this highly sophisticated technique relies on meticulous attention to countless details, each of which had to be tediously learned through trial and error before it could be handed down.

The gold and ornamental objects were made exclusively by members of the Royal Goldsmiths Guild. Legend has it that the goldsmiths („sikadwinfo“) learned their skills from Fusu Kwabi, a major founder of the Ashanti, who descended from heaven to teach his descendants in the art of gold working.

Gold not only served as a sign of social status and wealth, but also had spiritual meaning. The shiny metal was thought to be the earthly embodiment of the sun and thus the embodiment of life force („kra“) itself.

(1) Quelle: u.a. Georg Eisner, Technische Aspekte des westafrikanischen Goldgusses, in: Das Gold der Akan, Museum Liaunig, Neuhaus, 2008


Dr. phil. Roland Hartmann (1922-2007), Antiquarian and internationally recognized capacity in the field of ancient cultures and writings. He was also a member of the Commission of the Ethnological Museum St. Gallen (Photo: Private Archive)


The jewellery and cult objects shown here (pectorals, rods, pendants and rings) can be assigned to the royal families of the Ashanti and Baule and belong to the estate of the Swiss private collection Dr.  phil. Roland Hartmann (1922-2007) in St. Gallen. Their wealth of forms and the knowledge of the craftsmanship of this unique tradition give these works „the aura of something special“, as Eisner aptly described it. „And in every detail we understand, our admiration for their craftsmanship and skill grows“.