Olowe of Ise (died 1938) Yoruba Ikere, Nigeria Coastal West Africa
About this artwork
One of four posts sculpted for the palace of the king (ogoga) of Ikere, this evocative image of the Yoruba concept of a divine ruler is a masterwork of Olowe of Ise. The renowned artist’s dynamic style can be distinguished by the interrelationships between figures, their exaggerated proportions, and the use of open space. The sculptor’s diminutive portrayal of the king suggests his dependence on others, and his crown has been emphasized to evoke the spiritual power residing within it. The towering image of the king’s senior wife standing behind him underscores her superior status as a guardian of her husband’s interests, endowed with keen political understanding and supernatural knowledge. She would have placed the crown on the king’s head during his enthronement ceremony. The smaller figures at the king’s feet represent one of his junior wives and the flute-playing trickster god Eshu.
Eva L. R Meyerowitz, “Wood-carving in Yoruba Country Today,” Africa 14, no. 2 (April 1943), pp. 66-70.
William Fagg and Margaret Plass, African Sculpture, (Studio Vista, a Dutton Vista Paperback, 1964), p. 91.
Esther Pasztory, “Hieratic Composition of West African Art,” The Art Bulletin, 52 (1970), pp. 209-306, pl. 4.
Jacqueline DeLange, The Art and Peoples of Black Africa (E.P. Dutton & Co., 1974), pl. 76.
William Fagg and John Pemberton, Yoruba Sculpture of West Africa (Alfred A. Knopf, 1982), p. 160 (ill.).
J.C. Moughtin, ed., The Work of Z.R. Dmochowski: Nigerian Traditional Architecture, exh. cat. (Ethnographica, 1988), p. 37.
John Pemberton, “Art and Rituals for Yoruba Sacred Kings,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 15, 2 (1989) pp. 96–111 (ill.).
Z.R. Dmochowski, An Introduction to Nigerian Traditional Architecture, vol. II, South-West and Central Nigeria (Ethnographica and National Commission of Museums and Monuments Nigeria, 1990), pl. 2.45 (ill.).
Roslyn Adele Walker, “The Ikere Palace: Veranda Posts by Olowe of Ise,” African Arts 24, 1 (1991), p. 77.
Antonio Acosta Mallo and Pilar Llull Martinez de Boya, Arte del Africa Negra (Tribal Investigation and Preservation of African Art Center, 1992), p. 141 (ill.).
John Picton, “West Africa and the Guinea Coast,” in Tom Phillips, ed., Africa: The Art of a Continent (Münich, Berlin, London, New York: Prestel, 1995), pp. 339-340 (ill.).
Herbert M. Cole, “Africa in the Dictionary of Art,” African Arts (Winter 1997), p. 63 (ill.).
Moyo Okediji, “Art of the Yoruba,” African Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 23, 2 (1997), pp. 168-169, no. 25 (ill.).
Suzanne Preston Blier, The Royal Arts of Africa, The Majesty of Form (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998), fig. 66.
Holland Cotter, “Anonymous Tribal Artisans Look Again,” New York Times, Arts and Leisure section, Sunday, April 12, 1998.
Francis Kianka, ed., Olowe of Ise: A Yoruba Sculptor to Kings, exh. cat. (National Museum of African Art, 1998), figs. 10, 11, 12, 16 (ill.).
Raoul Lehuard, “Les Expositions,” Arts D’Afrique Noire, no. 106 (Summer 1998), pp. 45-55; 52 (ill.).
Roslyn A. Walker, Ọlọ́wẹ̀ of Isẹ̀: A Yoruba Sculptor to Kings (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, 1998), fig. 4.
Kathleen Bickford Berzock, “African Art at the Art Institute of Chicago,” African Arts 32, 4 (Winter 1999), pp. 30-31, fig. 15 (ill.).
Richard F. Townsend and Kathleen Bickford Berzock, “The Art Institute of Chicago New Galleries for African Art and Indian Art of the Americas,” in Tribal Arts 16-1, no. 62 (Winter 2011), p. 67, fig. 21.
Babatunde Lawal, Yoruba (Milan: 5 Continents), 2012, pl. 7.
Yomi Ola, Satires of Power in Yoruba Visual Culture (Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 2013), pp. 47–52; 50 (ill.).
New York, Center for African Art, Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought, Sept. 21, 1989–Jan. 7, 1990, cat. 241; traveled to Art Institute of Chicago, Feb. 10–Apr. 1, 1990, Washington D.C., National Museum of African Art, May 8–Aug. 26, 1990, Cleveland Museum of Art, Sept. 26–Dec. 9, 1990, New Orleans Museum of Art, Jan. 11–Mar. 24, 1991, and Atlanta, High Museum, Apr. 23–June 16, 1991, Phoenix Art Museum, Sept. 4-Oct. 6.
Washington, D.C., National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Anonymous Has a Name: Olowe of Ise, A Yoruba Court Artist, Mar. 11–Sept. 1, 1998, no cat.
Onijagbo Obasoro Alowolodu, Ogaga (King) of Ikere (reigned 1890-1928), Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, from 1914; by descent to his heirs, Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria and later Federal Republic of Nigeria, until at least 1964 [in situ photographs from 1937, 1959, and 1964, copies in curatorial file]. Gaston T. de Havenon (died 1993), New York, N.Y., by 1981 [documentation in curatorial file]; sold to the Art Institute, 1984.