|Benin ivory mask|
|Material||Ivory, iron inlay|
|Height||9 3/8 in (23.8 cm)|
|Width||5 in (12.7 cm)|
|Depth||3 1/4 in (8.3 cm)|
|Created||Early 16th century|
|Present location||Metropolitan Museum of Art, British Museum, Seattle Art Museum, Linden Museum, private collection|
The Benin ivory mask is a miniature sculptural portrait in ivory of the powerful Queen Mother Idia of the 16th century Benin Empire, taking the form of an African traditional mask.
Ivory is a hard, white material from the tusks and teeth of animals, that consists mainly of dentine, one of the physical structures of teeth and tusks. The chemical structure of the teeth and tusks of mammals is the same, regardless of the species of origin. The trade in certain teeth and tusks other than elephant is well established and widespread; therefore, "ivory" can correctly be used to describe any mammalian teeth or tusks of commercial interest which are large enough to be carved or scrimshawed. It has been valued since ancient times in art or manufacturing for making a range of items from ivory carvings to false teeth, piano keys, fans, dominoes and joint tubes. Elephant ivory is the most important source, but ivory from mammoth, walrus, hippopotamus, sperm whale, killer whale, narwhal and wart hog are used as well. Elk also have two ivory teeth, which are believed to be the remnants of tusks from their ancestors.
A queen mother is a dowager queen who is the mother of the reigning monarch. The term has been used in English since at least 1560. It arises in hereditary monarchies in Europe and is also used to describe a number of similar yet distinct monarchical concepts in non-European cultures around the world.
Queen Idia was the mother of Esigie, the Oba of Benin who ruled from 1504 to 1550. She played a very significant role in the rise and reign of her son. She has been described as a great warrior who fought relentlessly before and during her son's reign as the Oba (king) of the Edo people. When Oba Ozolua died, he left behind two powerful sons to dispute over who would become Oba. His son Esigie controlled Benin City while another son, Arhuaran, was based in the equally important city of Udo about 30 kilometres (20 mi) away. Idia mobilised an army around Esigie at Unuame on the River Osse, which defeated Arhuaran, and Oba Esigie became the 16th king.
Two almost identical masks are extant: one at the British Museum in London and the other at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.Both feature a serene face of the Queen Mother wearing a beaded headdress, a beaded choker at her neck, scarification highlighted by iron inlay on the forehead, and all framed by the flange of an openwork tiara and collar of symbolic beings, as well as double loops at each side for attachment of the pendant.
The British Museum, in the Bloomsbury area of London, United Kingdom, is a public institution dedicated to human history, art and culture. Its permanent collection of some eight million works is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence, having been widely sourced during the era of the British Empire. It documents the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present. It was the first public national museum in the world.
London is the capital of and largest city in England and the United Kingdom, with the largest municipal population in the European Union. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City, colloquially "the Met", is the largest art museum in the United States. With 6,953,927 visitors to its three locations in 2018, it was the third most visited art museum in the world. Its permanent collection contains over two million works, divided among seventeen curatorial departments. The main building, on the eastern edge of Central Park along Museum Mile in Manhattan's Upper East Side is by area one of the world's largest art galleries. A much smaller second location, The Cloisters at Fort Tryon Park in Upper Manhattan, contains an extensive collection of art, architecture, and artifacts from Medieval Europe. On March 18, 2016, the museum opened the Met Breuer museum at Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side; it extends the museum's modern and contemporary art program.
There are also examples on the same theme at the Seattle Art Museumand the Linden Museum, and one in a private collection, all taken during the British Benin Expedition of 1897.
The Seattle Art Museum is an art museum located in Seattle, Washington. It maintains three major facilities: its main museum in downtown Seattle; the Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM) in Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill, and the open Olympic Sculpture Park on the central Seattle waterfront, which opened on January 20, 2007.
The Linden Museum is an ethnological museum located in Stuttgart, Germany. The museum features cultural artifacts from around the world, including South and Southeast Asia, Africa, the Islamic world from the Near East to Pakistan, China and Japan, and artifacts from North and Latin America and Oceania.
The Benin Expedition of 1897 was a punitive expedition by a United Kingdom force of 1,200 under Admiral Sir Harry Rawson in response to the ambush of a previous British-led party under Acting Consul General James Philips. Rawson's troops captured, burned, and looted Benin City, bringing to an end the west African Kingdom of Benin. As a result, much of the country's stolen art, including the Benin Bronzes, were relocated to Britain.
The British Museum example in particular has also become a cultural emblem of modern Nigeria since FESTAC 77, a major pan-African cultural festival held in 1977, which chose as is official emblem a replica of the mask crafted by Erhabor Emokpae.
Nigeria, officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a country in West Africa, bordering Niger in the north, Chad in the northeast, Cameroon in the east, and Benin in the west. Its coast in the south is located on the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean. The federation comprises 36 states and 1 Federal Capital Territory, where the capital, Abuja, is located. The constitution defines Nigeria as a democratic secular state.
Festac '77, also known as the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, was a major international festival held in Lagos, Nigeria, from 15 January 1977 to 12 February 1977. The month-long event celebrated African culture and showcased to the world African music, fine art, literature, drama, dance and religion. About 16,000 participants, representing 56 African nations and countries of the African Diaspora, performed at the event. Artists who performed at the festival included Stevie Wonder from United States, Gilberto Gil from Brazil, Bembeya Jazz National from Guinea, Mighty Sparrow from Trinidad and Tobago, Les Ballets Africains, South African Miriam Makeba, and Franco Luambo Makiadi. At the time it was held, it was the largest pan-African gathering to ever take place.
ErhaborOgievaEmokpae, OON, was a renowned Nigerian sculptor, muralist, graphic artist and painter who is regarded as one of the pioneers of modern arts in Nigeria. Some of his notable works include the a bronze replica of the ivory mask of Queen Idia that was used as the official emblem of the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture and a popular painting of Queen Amina. He is also responsible for the decorations on the four entrances of the National Arts Theatre, in Lagos.
Stuttgart is the capital and largest city of the German state of Baden-Württemberg. Stuttgart is located on the Neckar river in a fertile valley known locally as the "Stuttgart Cauldron". It lies an hour from the Swabian Jura and the Black Forest. Its urban area has a population of 609,219, making it the sixth largest city in Germany. 2.7 million people live in the city's administrative region and 5.3 million people in its metropolitan area, making it the fourth largest metropolitan area in Germany. The city and metropolitan area are consistently ranked among the top 20 European metropolitan areas by GDP; Mercer listed Stuttgart as 21st on its 2015 list of cities by quality of living, innovation agency 2thinknow ranked the city 24th globally out of 442 cities and the Globalization and World Cities Research Network ranked the city as a Beta-status world city in their 2014 survey.
In the early 16th century, the dynamic Esigie ruled the Benin Empire of the Edo people as its Oba. He came to power as Portuguese explorers first made contact with the empire. Trade and diplomacy with Europe brought Esigie and the Edo prosperity and regional influence as the empire traded pepper, ivory, local textiles, and slaves for brass, cloth, coral beads, and mercenaries for protection. Esigie engaged in two major conflicts. First, his half-brother fought a protracted civil war over the line of succession that would crown Esigie, the firstborn. Second, Esigie successfully defended against an invasion from the northern Igala Kingdom and captured their leader.Esigie rewarded his key political and mystical advisor during these trials, his mother Idia, with the title of Iyoba (Queen Mother)—the first in a tradition of Queen Mother advisors. The identification with Idia was made by Oba Akenzua II in the mid-20th century.
Oba Esigie was an Oba (king) of Benin who ruled the ancient Benin Kingdom, now Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria. Works of art commissioned by Esigie are held in prominent museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Museum.
The Edo or Bini people are an ethnic group primarily found in Edo State, and spread across the Delta, Ondo, and Rivers states of Nigeria. They speak the Edo language and are the descendants of the founders of the Benin Empire. They are closely related to other ethnic groups that speak Edoid languages, such as the Esan, the Afemai and the Owan.
Oba means ruler in the Yoruba and Bini languages of West Africa. Kings in Yorubaland, a region which is in the modern republics of Benin, Nigeria and Togo, make use of it as a pre-nominal honorific. Examples of Yoruba bearers include Oba Ogunwusi of Ile-Ife, Oba Adeyemi of Oyo and Oba Akiolu of Lagos. An example of a Bini bearer is Oba Ewuare II of Benin.
The Oba of Benin commissioned works from his guild of ivory and wood carvers, the Igbesanmwan. Their works were customized for their ruler, between the material connotations of ivory and the visual motifs in the carvings.At least two of the masks feature Portuguese imagery (although this imagery outlasted the actual Portuguese presence) and thus were likely created during Esigie's early-16th century rule (possibly ca. 1520), either during Idia's life or soon after her death. The similarities between the masks indicate that they were likely created at the same time by the same artist. Their details match the comparable carving qualities of ivory spoons and salt cellars commissioned during the same period, the early period of Benin art, the phase of strongest affiliation with Ife or Yoruba art. Ivory works from Benin were mainly for the Oba to use in ritual. The masks may have been used in ceremonies including the Ugie Iyoba commemoration of the Oba's mother, as well the Emobo purification ceremony to expel bad spirits from the land. Similar pendant masks are mainly used in contemporary Emobo ceremonies focused on bad spirits, though the traditions of Emobo may have changed throughout history.
Four rungs on the side of the masks, above and below each ear, let the masks hang in suspensionand indicate that the masks were suspended from a cord, though experts have disagreed on how they were worn. British Museum art historian William Fagg concluded that unlike the small brass pendant masks worn at the waist by modern kings, the ivory mask was likely worn around the neck. An 1830s drawing of a similar mask worn at the breast by a neighboring ruler confirms Fagg's theory. Based on the position of the rungs, Metropolitan curator Alisa LaGamma also affirmed the theory. Benin specialist and anthropologist Paula Ben-Amos, however, wrote that the masks were worn on the waist as pendants during the Ugie Iyoba and Emobo ceremonies. The hollow masks likely served as amuletic containers. Below the mask's collars, the ring of small loops are attachment points for crotal bells.
They are made of ivory, long and ovular in shape,and thinly carved, approaching semiopaqueness. The similar British Museum and Metropolitan pendant masks have elaborate ornament at their hair and collar. Each mask's gaze is accentuated with iron inlay at its pupils and lower eye outline, and the eyes are slightly diverted by the eyelids. This use of inlay departed from the ways in which Europeans used ivory. Above the eyes, the four supraorbital marks are associated with Benin women. The masks' facial features are symmetrical and skillfully precise. Their lips are parted, nostrils slightly flared, and hair dense with tiny coils and a rectilinear hairline. The masks' expression of "impersonal coolness" reflected the stylistic conventions of the Oba's ivory carvers guild, with a naturalism typical of craft in early Benin art.
The depiction of women is rare in Benin art,though the position of Idia, known to Edo tradition as "the only woman who went to war", is exceptional, and the very title of Iyoba or Queen Mother was created for her. The headdress forms part of the ukpe-okhue ("parrot's beak") hairstyle she originated, and is more clearly seen on the Bronze Head of Queen Idia. The depicted precious coral of the headdress and choker are in the form of cylindrical ikele ("royal") beads, which it was the specially-granted privilege of the Queen Mother to wear, being usually reserved for the Oba and the Edogun (war chief). The Linden Museum mask also has a string of actual ikiele beads of coral wrapped around its forehead. These red beads and red cloth, once reserved for leadership figures, have in modern times been popularly adopted as elements of Edo traditional dress.
The foreheads of both masks were are inscribed with four vertical cicatrices over each eye, with inlays of a pair of iron strips highlighting the scarification.Iron is also used in the pupils and rims of the eyes.
Ivory, both then and now, connotes royal wealth, power, and purity.Ivory, already a luxury commodity in Africa, became increasingly coveted with the growth of the European ivory trade. When an elephant was killed in Benin, the Oba received one tusk as a gift and was offered the other in sale. Thus, the Oba had many tusks and controlled the ivory trade. Ivory is associated with the Edo orisha of the sea, Olokun. As this orisha gives wealth and fertility, it the spirit world's equivalent of the Benin Oba. Ivory gave wealth similar to Olokun, as it enticed the Portuguese merchants who, in turn, returned wealth to Benin. The Portuguese belonged to Olokun, having arrived from the sea. The whiteness of ivory also reflects the symbolism of white chalk, whose ritual purity is associated with Olokun.
The openwork of the tiara and collar represent tiny heads of Portuguese men in the tiara of both the Met and the British Museum examples, with eleven figures in the British Museum mask, and in the Met mask seven figures of Portuguese men alternating with six representations of mudfish, the West African lungfish.The Portuguese, who had only recently arrived in the area, were a symbol of power and affluence to the royal court. Their iconography is identifiable by their long hair, hanging mustaches (often described as bearded), and domed hats. Benin art historian Barbara Blackmun interprets these crown adornments as a reference to Idia's ability to conduct the Portuguese power to her son's favor. Mudfish were a common theme in Benin royal arts, and reflected the divinity of the Oba. Edo cosmology believed that spirits crossed the ocean to reach the afterlife, where their leaders lived like gods. As creatures who could live on land and sea, the mudfish symbolized the duality needed for the leader's final journey, and this duality represents the seafaring Portuguese as well. The mudfish also appear in a pattern on the Linden Museum mask's crown, while the private collection mask's crown has bird elements, also formerly present on the similar Seattle Art Museum mask. The masks also differ in pattern along their bottom, collar edges. The collar of the Met example is similarly decorated with eleven Portuguese men (with damage on its proper right side), while the collar of the British Museum mask is instead an abstract guilloché latticework.
During the 1897 punitive Benin Expedition, the British stole a group of similar ivory masks in the Oba's palace bedroom. The expedition's civil leader Ralph Moor took the two finest masks, which were later collected by British anthropologist Charles Gabriel Seligman and transferred to the London Museum of Mankind (now the British Museum) and the New York Museum of Primitive Art (now the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Two additional masks from the bedchamber group were taken by British officers and now reside in the collections of the Seattle Art Museum (formerly Principal Medical Officer Robert Allman) and the Linden Museum in Stuttgart (formerly W. D. Websterand then Augustus Pitt Rivers), and there is one in a private collection of the heirs of Henry Galway.
Five to six masks of this typewere found in a large chest in 1897 in the bedchamber of the then-reigning Oba Ovonramwen, the ruler at the Benin court. They were taken at a time of great civil unrest during the British punitive Benin Expedition of 1897, the British burned the royal palaces of the Oba and the Queen Mother and looted thousands of ivory, brass and wood from the ancestral altars, private quarters and storerooms and many were sold in England to western museums and collectors to offset the cost of the expedition. The British Museum's pendant was purchased in 1910 from the British anthropologist Prof Charles Gabriel Seligman.
The Met's mask was acquired in 1972 as a gift of Nelson Rockefeller.He founded the Museum of Primitive Art in 1954 after the Metropolitan Museum did not reciprocate his interest in Precolumbian art. The museum collected works for their artistic—and not anthropological—value, contrasting with the earlier history of African art in Western collections. The Queens College art historian Robert Goldwater became its director and recommended acquisitions. His argument to collect the ivory pendant mask was among his longest, at the end of 1957. He called it "the best object of its kind known, nor will any others ever turn up". Goldwater wrote that the mask was higher in quality than the similar, renowned one owned by the British Museum. The mask, he predicted, would redefine the collection and go on permanent display, on par with the Museum of Modern Art's well-known Sleeping Gypsy (1897) by Henri Rousseau. Rockefeller purchased the mask at a record price and unveiled it in September 1958. The purchase solidified a policy that Goldwater believed the museum should center around permanent collections of masterworks.
The Benin Pendant Mask has become an iconic image of Benin art, and the British Museum version in particular was featured on Nigerian one Naira banknotes in 1973, kg bronze reproduction was also donated to UNESCO in 2005.and was chosen as the official emblem of the pan-africanist FESTAC 77 cultural festival in 1977, so that this design is often known in modern Nigeria as the FESTAC Mask. The Nigerian government was unsuccessful in securing a loan of the work from the British Museum, and commissioned Edo artist Erhabor Emokpae to recreate the mask as a 20-foot tall bronze centerpiece for the festival (on display at the National Arts Theatre since 1979). He also designed a FESTAC flag with the mask as central charge on an unequally banded black-gold-black vertical tricolor, and being responsible for the event's extensive graphic design. Another Edo artist, Felix Idubor, was commissioned to carve two replica masks in ivory for the Nigerian National Museum. A 150
The Met's Queen Mother pendant mask is considered among the museum's most celebrated works.African art historian Ezio Bassani wrote that the profile of the Met's mask was "at once delicate and strong" with a "musical rhythm", and that its use of iron and copper inlay was both "discreet and functional". He wrote that the Metropolitan and British Museum masks were among the most beautiful ivories carved in Benin, and that their artist was both refined and sensitive. Kate Ezra wrote that the mask's thinness showcased the "sensitivity and solemnity" of early Benin art.
Benin City is the capital and largest city of Edo State in southern Nigeria. It is situated approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) north of the Benin River and 320 kilometres (200 mi) by road east of Lagos. Benin City is the centre of Nigeria's rubber industry, and oil production is also a significant industry.
The Oba of Benin is the traditional ruler of the Edo people and all Edoid people and head of the historic Eweka dynasty of the Benin Empire - a West African empire centred on Benin City, in modern-day Nigeria. The ancient Benin homeland has been and continues to be mostly populated by the Edo.
African art describes the modern and historical paintings, sculptures, installations, and other visual culture from native or indigenous Africans and the African continent. The definition may also include the art of the African diasporas, such as African American, Caribbean or art in South American societies inspired by African traditions. Despite this diversity, there are unifying artistic themes present, when considering the totality of the visual culture from the continent of Africa.
The Benin Bronzes are a group of more than a thousand metal plaques and sculptures that decorated the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin in what is now modern-day Nigeria. Collectively, the objects form the best known examples of Benin art, created from the thirteenth century onwards, by the Edo people, which also included other sculptures in brass or bronze, including some famous portrait heads and smaller pieces.
Ozolua, originally called Okpame and later called Ozolua n'Ibaromi, was an Oba of the Kingdom of Benin from 1483 until 1514. He greatly expanded the Kingdom through warfare and increased contact with the Portuguese Empire. He was an important Oba in both history of the Kingdom of Benin and retains importance in the folklore and celebrations of the region.
Traditional African masks are one of the elements of great African art that have most evidently influenced Europe and Western art in general; in the 20th century, artistic movements such as cubism, fauvism and expressionism have often taken inspiration from the vast and diverse heritage of African masks. Influences of this heritage can also be found in other traditions such as South- and Central American masked Carnival parades.
Most African sculpture was historically in wood and other organic materials that have not survived from earlier than at most a few centuries ago; older pottery figures are found from a number of areas. Masks are important elements in the art of many peoples, along with human figures, often highly stylized. There is a vast variety of styles, often varying within the same context of origin depending on the use of the object, but wide regional trends are apparent; sculpture is most common among "groups of settled cultivators in the areas drained by the Niger and Congo rivers" in West Africa. Direct images of African deities are relatively infrequent, but masks in particular are or were often made for traditional African religious ceremonies; today many are made for tourists as "airport art". African masks were an influence on European Modernist art, which was inspired by their lack of concern for naturalistic depiction.
Benin art is the art from the Kingdom of Benin or Edo Empire (1440–1897), a pre-colonial African state located in what is now known as the South-South region of Nigeria. Primarily made of cast bronze and carved ivory, Benin art was produced mainly for the court of the Oba of Benin - a divine ruler for whom the craftsmen produced a range of ceremonially significant objects. The full complexity of these works can be appreciated only through the awareness and consideration of two complementary cultural perceptions of the art of Benin: the Western appreciation of them primarily as works of art, and their understanding in Benin as historical documents and as mnemonic devices to reconstruct history, or as ritual objects. This original significance is of great import in Benin.
Ikegobo, the Edo term for "altars to the Hand," are a type of cylindrical sculpture from the Benin Empire. Used as a cultural marker of an individual's accomplishments, Ikegobo are dedicated to the hand, from which the people of Benin considered the will for wealth and success to originate. These commemorative objects are made of wood or brass with figures carved in relief around their sides.
The Kingdom of Benin, also known as the Benin Kingdom, was a pre-colonial kingdom in what is now southern Nigeria. It is not to be confused with Benin, the post-colonial nation state. The Kingdom of Benin's capital was Edo, now known as Benin City in Edo state. The Benin Kingdom was "one of the oldest and most highly developed states in the coastal hinterland of West Africa, dating perhaps to the eleventh century CE", until it was annexed by the British Empire in 1897.
Benin ancestral altars are adorned with some of the finest examples of art from the Benin Kingdom of south-central Nigeria.
Court and ceremonial art makes up a vital corpus of Benin art. Private and public ceremonies mark many of the important moments in Benin’s yearly calendar. In the past, an elaborate series of rites were performed throughout the year to secure otherworldly support for the kingdom’s well-being and to celebrate decisive events in its history.
The Bronze Head of Queen Idia is a commemorative bronze head from mediaeval Benin that probably represents Queen Idia, who was a powerful monarch during the early sixteenth century at the Benin court. Four cast bronze heads of the queen are known and are currently in the collections of the British Museum, the World Museum in Liverpool, the Nigerian National Museum in Lagos and the Ethnological Museum of Berlin.
Unuamen also spelt Unuame is a village community in Ovia North-East Local Government Area of Edo State, Nigeria. Unuamen is about 15 kilometres (9 mi) from Benin City and 20 kilometres (12 mi) from the airport. Unuamen is the home to a group of Benin people who have remained loyal to the king since the beginning of the kingdom of Benin. The Okao of Unuame is the traditional head who administers the affairs of the community on behalf of the Benin Monarch.
Aiguobasinwin Ovonramwe, Eweka II was the Oba of Benin from 1914 to 1933.
Okukor is the name given to a bronze statue of a cock from West Africa, held by Jesus College, Cambridge. One of the Benin bronzes, it was taken from the Kingdom of Benin by the British expedition of 1897, sent to punish the Oba of Benin after several British officials were killed. It became controversial in 2016 as a symbol of looted art and colonialism, with demands that it be sent back to Nigeria.
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