African art from Benin is described as court art because it is closely associated with the king, known as the Oba. The tradition of bronze court objects in the Benin kingdom dates back to the 14th century. The many bronze alloy heads and statues created by Benin artists were reserved for the exclusive use of the inhabitants of the royal palace and, more often than not, placed on altars consecrated by each new Oba. These rectangular altars were topped with heads, statues, carved ivory tusks, bells and sticks. They were used to commemorate an oba and to make contact with his spirit.
This late sculpture, reminiscent of those made at the death of the queen, depicts a queen mother of Benin named the Iyoba, whose neck is encircled with multiple coral bead necklaces. Her high headdress also consisted of a fishnet of beads falling on either side of the face.
After the birth of the future king, the queen was "removed" from power and could no longer bear children. But at the end of the 15th century the Oba Esigie refused to comply with this practice and wanted to give the city of Uselu to her mother. She also received a palace and many privileges. In gratitude she raised an army to go and fight the Igala of the North. The Oba had a head cast in her effigy, among many works cast in lost wax, to place on her altar after her death.
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