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Commemorative Head of an Ọba (Uhunmwu Elao)

Arts of Africa

One of the first duties of a new Edo oba, or king, is to establish an altar to his father and commission artists to create objects to adorn it. The altar serves both as a tribute to the deceased oba and a point of contact with his spirit. This cast-brass head would have been placed on such an altar. Its red color and shiny surface make it both beautiful frightening, appropriate attributes for a powerful monarch. The high collar and beaded headpiece represent the coral-beaded costume worn by reigning obas.

MEDIUM Copper alloy, iron
DATES 18th century
DIMENSIONS 11 1/4 × 7 7/8 in. (28.5 × 20 cm)  (show scale)
INSCRIPTIONS "AF./2060" in white on back of head; "39.111" in red on back of head
COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
CREDIT LINE Alfred W. Jenkins Fund
PROVENANCE Until 1897, Benin Kingdom; 1897, taken from the Royal Palace during the British military raid and occupation of Benin City by an unidentified British agent; between 1897 and 1912, provenance not yet documented; by November 1912, acquired by William O. Oldman of London, United Kingdom; November 18, 1912, purchased from William O. Oldman by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, Philadelphia, PA; 1939, transferred from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology to the Brooklyn Museum, by exchange.
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CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Metal base for ivory tusk in the form of a head. Tall cylinder, the bottom half a collar of simulated beads from shoulders to lower lips; headdress covered with netting design. Top is open to hold tusk.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Edo. Commemorative Head of an Ọba (Uhunmwu Elao), 18th century. Copper alloy, iron, 11 1/4 × 7 7/8 in. (28.5 × 20 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Alfred W. Jenkins Fund, 39.111. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 39.111_overall_PS11.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 39.111_overall_PS11.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2021
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