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HOME : African & Tribal Art : AS collection : Benin Decorative Head of an Oba
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Benin Decorative Head of an Oba - BF.009 (LSO)
Origin: Nigeria
Circa: 19 th Century AD to 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 6" (15.2cm) high x 4.5" (11.4cm) wide
Collection: African
Medium: Bronze

Additional Information: AS

Location: Great Britain
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This attractive bust was made by the artisans of the Benin Empire. The striking naturalism of the rendering attests not only to their technical and aesthetic skill, but also to their flexibility towards foreign influence. The piece is an accurate depiction of an oba,, with a very composed and serene expression. The detailing of the regalia and clothing he wears reflects a great deal about the heritage represented – it is unlike the majority of earlier Benin pieces and instead echoes the western sculptural tradition and European tastes in the closing days of the empire.

Until the late 19th century, the Benin centres were a ruling power in Nigeria, dominating trade routes and amassing enormous wealth as the military and economic leaders of their ancient empire. This changed with the appearance of British imperial forces, which coveted the wealth of the royal palaces and found a series of excuses to mount a punitive expedition against the Oba’s forces in 1897. It was only at this point, the moment of its’ destruction, that the true achievements of the Benin polities became apparent to western scholars.

Benin royal palaces comprised a sprawling series of compounds containing accommodation, workshops and public buildings. As it grew, the buildings pertaining to previous Obas were either partially refurbished or left in favour of newer constructions; this led to a long history of royal rule written in sculptural works that rank among the finest that African cultures have ever produced; until European advances in the 19th century, they were the finest bronzes that had ever been made.

Pieces such as this were emblematic of the decline and eventual fall of the empire, but are at the same time symbolic of the survival of Benin’s proudest sculptural traditions. This is an endearing piece of African art.

- (BF.009 (LSO))


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