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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Ife : Ife Stone Head
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Ife Stone Head - PF.6043
Origin: Nigeria
Circa: 16 th Century AD to 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 10" (25.4cm) high
Collection: African
Medium: Stone

Location: United States
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Ife, the capital and religious center of Southwest Nigeria, was one of the first Sub-Saharan cities to emerge at the end of the first millennium AD. A substantial number of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic sculptures, made most frequently in terracotta although brass was also employed, were produced in the region between the 11th and the 15th centuries. This distinctive style is broadly referred to as “Ife”, even though some examples may come from other cities such as Owo. The brass objects especially are strikingly realistic, despite the fact they are almost certainly idealized portraits of dead kings, called Oni. The terracotta heads are more numerous and varied, no doubt a result of the comparative abundance and ease of working the material. Some of the faces, whether made of brass or terracotta, carry vertical parallel incisions, possibly representing scarification or body paint.

This rare stone bust is a perfect example of the Ife style. The molding of the facial structure is incredibly naturalistic. Although worn, the curves of the flesh are well depicted, especially apparent around the figure’s eyes and brow. The figure wears a tight fitting cap with a small ornament of concentric rings and a protruding crest that has broken off. Such caps and ornaments occur frequently in Ife portraiture. This crown probably symbolizes the figure’s royal status and echoes the ribbed appearance of the figure’s neck. Here, the faded series of undulating rings represent stylized necklaces that were, and still are, a sign of wealth and rank in African society. This head also bears the pattern of vertical parallel incisions that is the hallmark of the Ife style. The site of Ife was traditionally revered by Benin kings as their place of origin and the decapitated heads of Benin kings were buried there. Might this sculpture commemorate a Benin king whose head was interred in Ife? Perhaps sculptors carved this effigy of a Benin king in the Ife style to honor his mythical origin.
- (PF.6043)


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