The front of this handsome oak credenza, or sideboard, is divided into halves by three pilasters. Each half is outfitted with a drawer and a door below. The decorative and functional components are artfully arranged across the front of the piece to form a balanced composition of repeated geometric shapes and harmonious proportions.
The Italian word "credenza" derives from the medieval Latin "credentia" (loosely translated as "security given"). The word refers to a centuries-old practice favored by lords and ladies accustomed to the treacheries of court intrigue. Food brought from the kitchen was first set on a credenza (or sideboard) near the dining table where it was tasted by a servant to protect the nobles from poisoning by their enemies.
Two squatting figures decorate the finials; one is elderly, bearded, and scarified, while the other is fresh-faced and young. At the lower left rung, two men carry a slit drum; between the caryatid figures supporting the chair’s front legs appear three men; the central splat has incised diagonal patterns called fuliko. At the center, what is possibly a pointy-nosed European’s face replaces the more habitual chikungu masker.
Inspired by late 17th century Portuguese prototypes called cadeira de sola, this chair exemplifies the cross-cultural hybridization readily found in African art. Above all, chairs like this represent the authority and supreme spiritual power of its owners: chiefs, elders, diviners, or circumcision specialists. When presiding over local disputes, dignitaries leaned on citwamo ca mungu while sitting on animal hides.