Altar Head of an Oba (Uhunmwun Elao)

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Benin Kingdom, Nigeria

Altar Head of an Oba (Uhunmwun Elao), 16th century

20 x 19 x 22 cm (7 7/8 x 7 1/2 x 8 5/8 in.)
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ethnologisches Museum, III C 8169

Benin’s royal altar heads appear in a range of styles from highly formalized to the more idealized naturalism of this example. Works such as this head, with its distinctive roll of coral beadwork at the neck and beaded strands hanging from the crown, are thought to date to the 16th century. It is possible that the naturalistic elements of this head may reflect a connection with the brass-casting traditions of the Ife Kingdom to the northwest.