Deaccessioned February 27, 2014

Head

African, Edo peoples, Nigeria, Benin kingdom
about 1750


Object Place: Benin City, Nigeria

Dimensions

21.59 cm (8 1/2 in.)

Accession Number

1991.1065

Medium or Technique

Terracotta, traces of pigment

Collections

Africa and Oceania

Classifications

Sculpture

Benin kings employed bronze memorial heads to signify the strength, permanence, and prosperity of their royal line and kingdom. Works of this sort are also said to honor the ancient artist Iguehse of Ife, who purportedly introduced bronze casting to the Benin court in the fourteenth century. Benin chiefs were permitted to commission wooden heads, while terra-cotta heads were reserved for members of the bronze-casters guild, thus emphasizing the ritual and technological importance of clay in their work. Terra-cotta heads also featured centrally in coronation rites. A suggested chronology of bronze heads characterizes the earliest as thinly cast with relatively naturalistic features, the necks encircled by simulated coral beads, and the stylized hair in patterned rows. Later heads were larger and thicker. The formal features of this head suggest that it dates to the mid-eighteenth century.

Provenance

January, 1990, said to have been collected from the family altar of brass casters, Benin City, Nigeria and acquired by Davis Gallery, New Orleans; May, 1990, sold by Davis Gallery to William and Bertha Teel, Marblehead, MA; 1991, year-end gift of William and Bertha Teel to the MFA (accession date: January 22, 1992); February 26, 2014, deaccessioned by the MFA for transfer to the Federal Republic of Nigeria. For further information, please see: http://www.mfa.org/collections/provenance/antiquities-and-cultural-property/nigerian-antiquities

Credit Line

Gift of William E. and Bertha L. Teel