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Commemorative Head of an Oba

Metal sculpture from the historic Kingdom of Benin, one of the most powerful and long-lasting kingdoms in West Africa, is widely acknowledged to be among the finest from sub-Saharan Africa, and this commemorative head of an oba, or king, is an excellent example. Commemorative heads such as this honor individual kings, but, like most traditional portraits in sub-Saharan Africa, position and status, not physical likeness, are depicted. Created when Benin flourished and trade with Europe increased the availability of brass, it is larger and heavier than heads ascribed to the early years of the kingdom, when metal was scarce, but it maintains the high quality of casting while avoiding the stiffness and extreme stylization that characterize many of the heads from the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Edo peoples
Kingdom of Benin, Nigeria
Commemorative Head of an Oba
Middle Period, 1600–1700
H. 11 ½ in. (29.2 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 75.98