Asante (Akan) Terracotta Memorial Head
Since the late sixteenth century, Akan women potters have created ceramic heads and sometimes complete figures to commemorate deceased royals and individuals of high status.
Approx Age: 19th/early 20th century
Dimensions cm: 16 x 11 (23 tall on stand)
Ref. Number: 1786
A beautifully styled 19th/early 20th century Asante (Akan) terracotta memorial head with a display stand. Swirl coiffure with a depiction of cowrie shells on the forehead, arched eyebrows and coffee bean-shaped eyes. There is a large stylistic diversity that is reflected within these grave markers, that range from seven to ten centimetres wide to lifesize and from hollow and sculpturally rounded to solid, flat, and circular casts.
Provenance: Ex-Eric Robertson collection, New York. Ex-Bruce Frank, New York
Since the late sixteenth century, Akan women potters have created ceramic heads and sometimes complete figures to commemorate deceased royals and individuals of high status. During the funeral, family members placed the terracotta portraits of the deceased in a sacred grove near the cemetery, sometimes with representations of other family members. These sculptures served as the focal point for funerary rites in which libations and food were offered to the ancestors.
Like other examples of African portraiture, these commemorative sculptures are idealized representations that convey individuality through specifics of scarification and hairstyle. The artist would typically be summoned to the deathbed of the deceased in order to observe his or her distinguishing characteristics, which she would depict later, working from memory to capture the individual’s essence. The figural terracotta sculptures vary enormously in style, ranging from fairly naturalistic and sculpturally rounded forms to examples that are solid, flat, and more dramatically stylized.
Reference: The Metropolitan Museum, New York.
A nineteenth-century terra-cotta deposit site in the Kwahu area of Ghana (photo, courtesy Basel Mission Archives)
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