Igbo Ukwu

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

Nigeria; Igbo Ukwu artist


Leaded bronze

D. 26.4 cm (10 5/16")

National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, 54.4.22

Photo by Dirk Bakker


This bowl was also found by Isaiah Anozie when he was making his water cistern and was used as a bowl to water his goats, until it was acquired by the Nigerian Department of Antiquities. Its delicate beaded lines, concentric circles, quatrefoils, and handles and bosses imitating twisted wire are typical of the ornate Igbo Ukwu style. Several similar bowls were found, and all are highly ornamented on the outer surface but smooth inside. Many of the cast bronze items seem to imitate more ordinary objects of clay, fiber ropes, or in this case a calabash or gourd bowl. Such an imitation in another material is called a skeuomorph. Ordinary calabash bowls are commonly decorated with incised and pyroengraved designs, but the ancient Igbo Ukwu artists seem to have covered almost all of their bronze bowls with this extremely intricate work.