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Yoruba bronze (N° 22275)
This bronze represents the Oni, king of Ifé, the birthplace of the Yorubas, whose civilization succeeded the Nok civilization. This city-state of Ilé-Ifé had an artistic tradition, that of the portrait imbued with realism, which inspired this type of sculpture. The parallel lines on the neck would evoke the folds of flesh of prosperous notables, and the hollowed-out parts that accompany it were to be used to secure the beaded veil of the king. The orifices around the mouth presumably symbolized a beard created by the attachment of hair or beads.
Such a head was attached to the top of a wooden effigy, dressed to represent the deceased king at the funeral, then buried after the ceremony in a sanctuary near the palace.
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The city of Ifé in Nigeria was in the 15th century the center of a powerful state in the forests west of the Niger delta. Bronze work was a prerogative of the "oni" king, using the lost wax technique. These prestigious objects embodying the sovereigns were placed on the royal altars for ceremonial use.
It would be a craftsman from Ilé-Ifé who would have taught the Edo of the Benin kingdom the art of metalwork. However, the artisans of Ilé-Ifé were more attached to the resemblance of their portraits than those of Benin who seemed to cast their emblematic works in fairly similar moulds.
The parallel folds on the neck would evoke the folds of flesh of prosperous notables, and the hollowed-out parts that accompany it must have been used to secure the beaded veil of the king.
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