L. Queen Mother C. Altar of the Hand R. Ivory Mask of Queen Mother.
16th c African (West) Benin Kingdom Sculpture
EDO PEOPLE Anonymous
(pre-1500 - present)
Benin Kingdom. Nigeria. Africa.
L&R London. British Museum. C. Vienna. Volkerkunde Mus.
A very interesting aspect of royal Benin court ritual was the role of the Queen Mother. Her special position is said to have been established by Oba Esigie, who came to power at the beginning of the 16th century. The magnificent head of the Queen mother shown on the left is one of four bronze portraits, which are closest to the naturalistic style of the Ife than are any other Benin works. She serves as the link with the ancestors, for succession goes through her.
The so-called "Altar of the Hand" in the center shows the Queen mother in a yearly ceremony dedicated to the ancestors. The Queen Mother, who is dressed in what is mostly an openwork top made of coral beads, is supported by naked female attendants as she communicates with the ancestors. The sacred serpents appear below along with female guards. Europeans report the female guards that they called "Amazons." Such altars were for the use of the king only.
The elegant ivory head shown on the right was worn on the Oba's belt during particular ceremonials. She wears an elegant braided necklace which seems to descend from her ears. A fascinating detail is the circlet of bearded Portuguese heads that serves as a crown.
Benin | L. Queen Mother C. Altar of the Hand R. Ivory Mask of Queen Mother.| 16 c | West African | Benin
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