1.3.7 African Art (800-1897)

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Ilé-Ifẹ̀:
Sculpture of Ife king
King Obalufon copper mask
Ife head

Benin:
Sculpture
Queen Idia ivory mask
Bronze plaque

Ilé-Ifẹ̀:

Ile Ife is the city in SW Nigeria where the Yoruba believe their civilization began as well as the location where the gods descended to earth. The name, Ile Ife, literally means place of dispersion. According to Yoruba tradition, Ife was founded by the deities Oduduwa and Obatala when they created the world. Ilé-Ifè is famous worldwide for its ancient and naturalistic bronze, stone and terracotta sculptures, dating back to between 1200 -1400 CE.

[1370-10]

Ilé-Ifẹ̀: Terracotta bust of a king or dignitary, Nigeria 12th-15th c CE, It is on show at the Ethnological Museum, Berlin
Image source: Wikimedia commons
[1370-11]


Image source: Wikimedia commons
[1370-12]

Ilé-Ifẹ̀: Yoruba religion 29 cm copper mask of King Obalufon II, Nigeria c1300 CE.

It is on show at the Ife Museum of Antiquities, Ife Nigeria.
A 35 cm tall brass Ife Head, a relic of the royal cult of an ancient Ooni of Ile-Ife displaying an heraldic crest of Ife royalty. It is dated to c14-15th c and on show at the British Museum.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Benin:

The Benin Empire was known for its many works of art, including religious objects, ceremonial weapons, masks, animal heads, figurines , busts, and plaques. Typically made from bronze, brass, clay, ivory, terra cotta, or wood, most pieces were produced at the court of the Oba (king) and used to illustrate achievements of the empire or narrate mythical stories. Iconic imagery depicted religious, social, and cultural issues central to their beliefs, and many bronze plaques featured representations of the Oba.

The peak of this Benin art occurred in the fifteenth century after the arrival of Portuguese missionaries and traders. By that point, Benin was already highly militarized and economically developed. However, the arrival of the Portuguese catalyzed a process of even greater political and artistic development. Because of Benin’s military strength, Portuguese missionaries were unable to enslave its people upon their arrival in the fifteenth century. Instead, a trade network was established in which the Benin Empire traded beautiful works of art for luxury items from Portugal, such as beads, cloth, and brass manillas for casting. The wealth of Benin’s art was credited with preventing the empire from becoming economically dependent on the Portuguese.

In 1897, the British led the Punitive Expedition in which they ransacked the Benin kingdom and destroyed or confiscated much of their artwork. Over 3,000 brass plaques were seized and are now held in museums around the world.

[1370-20]


Image source: courses.lumenlearning.com
[1370-21]

Benin: This sculpture, an example of Benin Bronzes held in museums around the world. This depicts generalised figures that frequently appear in Benin art. It is 16-18th c.
Benin: ivory mask of Queen Idia: Iyoba ne Esigie, meaning: Queen mother of Oba Esigie (Oba means king), from the court of Benin, 16th c.
Image source: courses.lumenlearning.com
[1370-22]


Image source: courses.lumenlearning.com
Benin plaque: The background portrays the floral pattern characteristic of plaques made at this time e. The image in the plaque consists of an Oba (king) surrounded by his subjects. Apart from military and political strength, the plaque illustrates a Portuguese influence, with whom they traded. It is 16th c.

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