The African art of Benin is described as court art because it is closely associated with the king, known as the Oba. The tradition of bronze court objects from the Benin Kingdom dates back to the 14th century. The many bronze alloy heads and statues created by the artists of Benin 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.
This late sculpture, reminiscent of those made when the queen died, features a queen mother of Benin named the Iyoba, whose neck is encircled with multiple necklaces of coral beads. Her high hairstyle was also made up of a mesh of pearls falling on either side of her face.
After the birth of the future king, the queen was "removed" from power and could no longer father. But at the end of the 15th century the Oba Esigie refused to conform to this practice and wanted to attribute the town of Uselu to his mother. In recognition she raised an army to go and fight the Igala of the North. The Oba cast a head in his effigy, among many works cast in lost wax, to place them on his altar after his death.
(Benin, B. Plankensteiner)
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