Barakat Gallery
Login | Register | User Services | Search | Newsletter Sign-up
Barakat Gallery
HOME : African & Tribal Art : Archive : Benin Ivory Hip Ornament
Click to view original image.
Benin Ivory Hip Ornament - PF.5498 B.(LSO)
Origin: Benin City, Nigeria
Circa: 17 th Century AD to 18 th Century AD
Dimensions: 10.5" (26.7cm) high x 5" (12.7cm) wide
Collection: African
Medium: Ivory

Additional Information: sold

Location: UAE
Ask a Question
Email to a Friend
Previous Item
Next Item
This remarkable piece of carved ivory is a hip ornament from one of the royal enclosures at the court of Benin. The artists of Benin were without doubt the finest craftsmen on the African continent, and still rank among the very highest echelons of ancient craftsmanship. Their grasp of complex technological processes, combined with a distinctive and visually stunning aesthetic sense makes their works among the greatest of African art treasures. The current specimen is a case in point. A small yet extremely powerful unit within the Nigerian Yoruba Empire, the Benin people were particularly renowned for their innovative artworks, which were mostly designed to honour the achievements and/or memory of the Obas, the divine rulers of the Benin polities. 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 the British 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. Their metalworking technology was incredibly advanced, while their sculpting, in a range of materials that included ivory, was extremely refined.

This is a masterwork of the genre; the detailing and rendering of complex features has been carried out exquisitely. The piece depicts a male head (probably that of an Oba) with a reflective and serene expression and downcast eyes. The nose is broad and retrousse, the lips full and sensuous, the eyes almond-shaped, the pupils low-lighted with black pigment. The apex of the mask is marked with a squared coiffure of ornate circles, surmounted by a series of nine bearded faces – intended to represent Portuguese colonials. The chin of the individual is encircled with bands representing a segmented coral necklace (a finer version of that seen in the metal heads designed to hold elephant tusks) and a ruff decorated with a patterned interlinked knotwork design. The forehead bears a pair of dark vertical ovals, with one set of three vertical markings on either side. There are two sets of decorated eminences – one above the ears and another level with the base of the nose – that were intended for suspension from a belt loop. Most of the socially elevated members of the Oba’s court were entitled to wear such pieces on their left hips as part of their stately regalia. It should also be noted that ethnographic and historical reports describe how most of the courtly notables wore metal hip ornaments, but that ivory pieces were worn only by the Oba.

Dating is a key issue that has yet to be fully resolved. While brass heads and plaques are relatively diagnostic, theories concerning what style came first have not been reconciled. To further confuse matters, these items are mobile and are therefore not often found associated with any altars or other contextual information that might help date them. The colour of the mask suggests a later date, for while patinated it is not yellowed. However, the grade of the ivory varies greatly, and age does not necessarily equate with extent of use. The presence of the Portuguese heads argues for an earlier date, as the novelty of foreigners meant that they were often incorporated into court arts (especially plaques). The age of the piece is therefore ambiguous, though an intermediate date is favoured. Its aesthetic qualities cannot be overstated. What we have here is an exceptionally rare and interesting piece of elite royal adornment from arguably one of the most important indigenous art traditions in the world. An exceptional piece. - (PF.5498 B.(LSO))


Home About Us Help Contact Us Services Publications Search
Terms and Conditions Privacy Policy Security

Copyright (c) 2000-2023 by Barakat, Inc. All Rights Reserved - TEL 310.859.8408 - FAX 310.276.1346

coldfusion hosting