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

Nigeria; Yoruba (Ife) artist

Head, possibly a king


H. 26.7 cm (10 1/2")

Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas / Art Resource, NY, 1994.04

The terracottas range in size from a few inches to almost life-size for some of the human figures. Many of the terracotta heads were presumably once attached to complete bodies, as many body fragments have been found. The art of Ife is unique in Africa for the degree of naturalism that is portrayed, and the artists were so skillful at depicting flesh over bone that the sculptures give the appearance of true portraits. It must be remembered, however, that the Ife artists also had their own set of stylistic conventions: the edge of the lips is raised; at the corners of the eyes the upper eyelid is usually depicted over the lower lid; a line is incised parallel to the upper eyelid; eyebrows are often absent; the hairline is depicted in a standardized manner; and neck creases or rings are depicted on the neck.