Benin Kingdom

By William Dewey
Pennsylvania State University (formerly University of Iowa)

Nigeria; Edo artist (Benin Kingdom Court Style)

Commemorative head of a king

19th century

Copper alloy

H x W x D: 38.1 x 24.4 x 27 cm (15 x 9 5/8 x 10 5/8 in.)

Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn to the Smithsonian Institution in 1966


Photograph by Franko Khoury

National Museum of African Art

Smithsonian Institution

The high-collared heads seen in the previous example are from the Middle Period, the same period when plaques were introduced, the early sixteenth to the late seventeenth century. The Late Period, when this head was made, dates from the late seventeenth century to 1897, when the city was sacked by the British. During this period the king was sent into exile, and brass casting ceased for a while until a new king, Eweka II, was installed in 1914. Each Oba added embellishments to the beaded coral crown as the dynasty continued, and the commemorative heads reflect this cumulative nature. As time went on, more brass became available through trade, and commemorative heads became heavier.  Before 1897 we think there were altars for each deceased king. Now there is one altar for the kings who ruled after the sack of Benin and one for those who ruled before 1897 (Plankensteiner 2007).