Benin bronze head


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Benin bronze head. The face has rounded features, wide-open eyes with raised rims and the remains of iron inlay, a short nose and a heart-shaped mouth with full lips that are slightly parted. The remains of iron inlay can also be seen in the double prestige scar over the nose. The hairstyle is plaited with concentric rings (the so-called Iwo hairstyle), the apex of the head is open to receive a tusk. Around the neck hangs a broad coral necklace. All these features are recurring in the 16th to 19th century Benin bronze heads. Thick encrusted Patina.

This Benin bronze head is the subject of a very controversial discussion. In the latest literature (Paula Ben-Amos et al.) the claim is found that it is the head of a defeated and beheaded enemy king. And the ibo-hairstyle does indeed indicate that this is not a native of Benin, but at the same time we find this hairstyle on the heads of many chieftains, warriors or other persons in the king’s circle, who are characterized by their coral necklaces as high-ranking persons. In this respect, the wearer of this hairstyle was probably not an enemy of the king, but rather a member of the court state.
While Ben-Amos and others assume that this is a male person, there is also the theory that this is an Iyoba, a king’s mother. The gender could be derived from the shape of the face, forehead and cheeks and partly from the four-dash “ikharo” scarifications over each eye – while Obas (males) usually have three scarifications on each side. But then the opening for the ivory tusk would be a very remarkable finding for an Iyoba head because they usually wear coral crowns with a forward-angled point on the top. Queen mothers were sometimes commemorated with a bronze head on an altar, following an edict laid down by Oba Esigie in the early 16th century (Phillips 1999: 397). The consecration gifts for the king are usually different from those for a royal mother. But brass heads representing Iyobas can always be differentiated on the basis of their tall coral crowns. And so we can probably refer this theory to the realm of fantasy.

Lit.: Phillips, T. (ed). 1999. Africa: The Art of a Continent. Prestel. Ekpo Eyo, Frank Willett, Kunstschätze aus Alt-Nigeria, Mainz 1983, p. 136.
Paula Girshick Ben-Amos:, The art of Benin, London 1995, p. 26.
Philip J. C. Dark, An introduction to Benin art and technology, Oxford 1973, p. 94.
Barbara Plankensteiner (Hg.), Benin. Könige und Rituale. Höfische Kunst aus Nigeria, Wien 2007, p. 373.

Similar objects: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ethnologisches Museum. Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig, Grassimuseum. British Museum, London. Nationalmuseum Lagos.

900 – 1.200,- Euro

Height: 22,2 cm
Weight: 2,19 kg

Additional information

Weight 2.19 kg