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Ancient Art from Africa - Ife

Ife Head

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Thermoluminescence - Expertise

Head of an important person

Benin/ Nigeria (Ife-Style)
14th-15th C
37 cm

Slg: Ro

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Head of an important person:

There are various theories regarding the pattern of narrow lines in the face of this delicately-rendered head with realistic facial characteristics. Some experts argue that the lines represent decorative scars; others believe that they are meant to depict a type of veil that was attached to the crown. Although this head from Ife bears no remnants of colour, it was most likely painted given that a very similar head in the British Museum in London features traces of red colouring.

The person whom the head depicts has not been definitively identified - though in all likelihood, it is an Oni (king of Ife). This type of royal head was used in secondary burial ceremonies, during which it bore the crown of the dead king and after which it was placed in a palace shrine.

Stylistically, this object differs from the usual Benin bronzes. It is distinguished not only by striking individual facial characteristics, but also by a dignified expression that indicates a high level of artistic skill. Crown and skin are rendered with such sophistication that they suggest a highly-developed bronze casting tradition in existence as early as the 14 th /15 th century.

For a long time, the high quality of the Ife heads led to the presumption that the origins of the bronze casting tradition could be found in Ife. The latest research, however, indicates that the first bronzes were made in Benin and that out of that tradition, two different styles later emerged. Why this incredibly realistic Ife style suddenly gave way to the more symbol-oriented Benin style has not yet been sufficiently explored.

(The text by Dorina Hecht dates from 2004 and would need correction. For documentary reasons it remains)

Frank WILLETT: Ife. Metropole afrikanischer Kunst, Bergisch Gladbach 1967, S. 36.
Barbara PLANKENSTEINER (Hg.): Benin. Könige und Rituale. Höfische Kunst aus Nigeria, Wien 2007, S. 272.

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Similar objects:  
Federal Department of Antiquities, Lagos, Nigeria  
Elsy LEUZINGER: Die Kunst von Schwarz-Afrika, Recklinghausen, 1972, S. 151.
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Ife Museum für Ife-Altertümer  
Schätze aus Alt-Nigeria. Ministerium für Kultur, Berlin (Ost) 1985, S. 116.
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Frank WILLETT: Ife. Metropole afrikanischer Kunst, Bergisch Gladbach 1967, S. 37.
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British Museum, London
William B. FAGG: Bildwerke aus Nigeria, München 1963, S. 39.
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Till Förster: Kunst in Afrika, Köln 1988, S. 2.
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Ife Museum für Ife-Altertümer (Kopie)  
Ekpo EYO, Frank Willett: Kunstschätze aus Alt-Nigeria, Mainz 1983, S. 21.
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