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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Ife : Ife Style Ivory Sculpture of a Nobleman
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Ife Style Ivory Sculpture of a Nobleman - PF.6229
Origin: Nigeria
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 5.75" (14.6cm) high
Collection: African
Medium: Ivory

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 diminutive ivory sculpture of an Ife nobleman invokes the majesty of larger bronze examples. He wears a crown with a prominent central pendant that is characteristic of Ife nobility. No doubt this crown reveals that individual’s high rank with the social hierarchy. His chest is covered in beaded necklaces that convey his wealth and status. Perhaps more mysterious are two objects he holds in his hand. The same object can be seen in similar examples, and these items most likely are emblems of power and ruling authority similar to the baton de commandment seen carried in the hand of European kings on Baroque paintings. This sculpture, carved from precious ivory, is a charming memorial to the glories of Ife that recalls the artistic mastery of the style.
- (PF.6229)


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