Benin Queen Mother Bronze Head

  • Tribe: Benin
  • Origin: Nigeria
  • Approx Age: Mid 20th Century? Maybe older
  • Materials: Bronze
  • Dimensions cm: 59 tall x 17 wide x 9kg
  • Ref. Number: 0352

Beautiful and stylish Benin Queen Mother bronze head. A very impacting and attractive depiction of Queen Idia, the Mother of Oba Esigie, there is no doubt that this is a replica of the real item but never-the-less this does not take away any of the true character and impressiveness of such a wonderful piece of Benin art. This piece was been acquired from a rather large  collection belonging to a private collector from Antwerp in Belgium.

Queen Idia, mother of Oba Esigie, king of Benin from the late fifteenth to the early sixteenth century, played a key role in her son’s military campaigns against the Igala people, which may have been over control of the Niger waterway. Benin finally won these wars and made the Igala king a vassal of the Oba. Oba Esigie also fought an internal battle with his brother, Arhuaran, over the establishment of a capital city. Oba Esigie was based in the capital, Benin City, but Arhuaran sought to establish another large important city, Udo, as the main centre. Brass casters of Benin were taken to Udo to work until Oba Esigie won the war.

A brass head representing Queen Idia was made to be placed in her altar following her death. It is said that Oba Esigie instituted the title of Queen Mother and established the tradition of casting heads of this type in honour of her military and ritual powers. Such heads were placed in altars in the palace and in the Queen Mother’s residence.

Image result for queen idia of benin

The Benin Bronzes led to a greater appreciation in Europe of African culture and art. Initially and naively, it appeared incredible to the discoverers that people “supposedly so primitive and savage” were responsible for such highly developed objects. Some even concluded that Benin knowledge of metallurgy came from the Portuguese traders who were in contact with Benin in the early modern period. Today, it is clear that the bronzes were made in Benin from an indigenous culture. Many of these dramatic sculptures date to the thirteenth century, centuries before contact with Portuguese traders, and a large part of the collection dates to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It is believed that two “golden ages” in Benin metal workmanship occurred during the reigns of Esigie (fl. 1550) and of Eresoyen (1735-50), when their workmanship achieved its highest qualities.

While the collection is known as the Benin Bronzes, like most West African “bronzes” the pieces are mostly made of brass of variable composition. There are also pieces made of mixtures of bronze and brass, of wood, of ceramic, and of ivory, among other materials.The metal pieces were made using lost-wax casting and are considered among the best sculptures made using this techniques

Benin Bronze head Oba Leopard

The Benin Bronzes are a group of more than a thousand commemorative metal plaques and sculptures that decorated the royal palace of the Benin Kingdom in modern-day Nigeria .Collectively, the plaques form the best known examples of Benin art, created by the Edo people from the thirteenth century, which also included other sculptures in brass or bronze, including some famous portrait heads and smaller pieces. In 1897, most of the plaques and other objects were removed by the British during a punitive expedition to the area as imperial control was being consolidated in Southern Nigeria. Two hundred of the pieces were taken to the British Museum, London, while the rest were purchased by other European museums. Today, a large number are held by the British Museum. Other notable collections are in Germany and the United States.

P. Girshick Ben-Amos, The art of Benin (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)