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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Benin : Benin Brass Head Depicting an Osun
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Benin Brass Head Depicting an Osun - PF.4488
Origin: Southcentral Nigeria
Circa: 1700 AD to 1897 AD
Dimensions: 12" (30.5cm) high
Collection: African
Medium: Brass

Location: UAE
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In the 13th-14th century A.D., a state emerged in what is today Nigeria. By the 15th century, the state of Benin had become a powerful warrior kingdom, with the divine kingship at the center of its political, religious, and social life. Nearly all art was created to honor the king or Oba, who claimed descent from a legendary prince of the earlier Yoruba Kingdom of Ife.

The court of Benin were the acknowledged masters of African metalwork, as this superb sculpture demonstrates. In the city of Benin, skilled artisans turned out magnificent metal sculptures for the patronage of the royal court. Using the lost wax process, Benin brass and bronzes frequently depict personages of importance.

This splendid sculpture portrays a man with the proud bearing of a chief or king. Through his elaborate head and face decoration lends a flowing abstract line of symbolism and mysticism, there is, however, a strong undercurrent of realism in this piece. The symbolism of the creatures represented reefers to the mystical and magical aspects of kingship so emphasized by the eighteenth-century Obas. The birds and snakes are attributes of Osun, the power inherent in leaves and herbs found in the forest. The birds are similar to those depicted on the top of the palace and have the same protective powers. Snakes are symbolic of the warriors of Osun. Their representation issuing from nostrils refers to the belief that those who are magically powerful vomit out snakes when setting out to destroy their enemies. The celts, or "thunder-stones" are associated with Ogiuwu, bringer of death, who whirls them on his enemies.

It is very possible that it is the actual portrait of an Oba.
- (PF.4488)


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