Benin Kingdom

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

NigeriaBenin Kingdom artist

Queen Mother head


H. 53.3 cm (21")

Detroit Institute of Arts, City of Detroit Purchase, 26.180

The Queen Mothers’ heads went through the same series of stylistic transformation as the kings’ heads. This much heavier casting, with the high beaded collar, dates from the Late Period of casting, probably the nineteenth century. The Queen Mothers were also allowed to have carved tusks on their altars. While the animal symbol most commonly associated with the king was the leopard, the symbol of the Queen Mother was the hen, and carved images of hens were also placed on her altars. Apart from the Oba and his intricate coral bead outfit, only “the Queen Mothers, the Crown Prince and the Ezomo [high ranking chiefs and military commanders] are permitted to wear a beaded shirt and crown” (Girshick Ben-Amos 1995: 89).