Benin (ancient Nigerian style)
Head of a king (Oba)
Unknown artist, Benin (ancient Nigerian style)
Head of a king (Oba), probably 1700s
Height: 26.7 x 19.7 x 21.6 cm (10 1/2 x 7 3/4 x 8 1/2 inches)
Gift of Miss Lucy T. Aldrich 39.054
(December 16, 2016 – July 2, 2017)
For centuries, commemorative heads such as this example were assembled in memorial shrines honoring former kings of Benin. These heads were not individualized portraits, but embodied the idea of kingship, honored the achievements of the deceased, and connected the reigning king (or oba) with his ancestors. They also testified to the technical mastery and artistic accomplishment of Benin artists over the ages. A strong tradition of casting continues today in Nigeria’s Benin City.
In 1897, British colonial forces sacked the Benin palace, taking historical heads such as this one and sending the reigning king into exile. The role of the oba was restored in 1914, and since then the display of commemorative heads has continued in the reconstructed royal palace.
Edited ByWoolsey, Ann, ed.
Publisher & DateMuseum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 2008
TypeMonographs and CollectionsA Handbook of the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design
Edited ByWoodward, Carla M., and Franklin W. Robinson, eds.
Publisher & DateMuseum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1988
TypeMonographs and Collections