The exquisiteness of the material and the sophistication of the carving indicate that it was created by the exclusive guild of royal ivory carvers for the king. This exquisite piece is made out of ivory, iron and cooper. This piece also contains pieces of inlaid metal and elaborate coral carvings. The piece dimensions are as followed; H. 9 3/8 x W. 5 x D. 3 1/4 in. (23. 8 x 12. 7 x 8. 3 cm). The mask is a sensitive human idealized portrait, depicting its subject with softly modeled features.
This piece is framed with an elegant tiara-like coiffure and openwork collar. The pupils were inlaid with iron metal, the forehead has carved scarification marks and also she is wearing bands of coral beads below the chin. In the necklace you can see miniature motifs that represent heads of the Portuguese soldiers depicted with beards and flowing hair. In the crown tiara-like coiffure are carved more Portuguese heads alternated with figures of stylized mudfish, which symbolizes Olokun, the Lord of the Great Waters.
You can see that some of the necklace portion is damage or missing and this could be due to the age and fragility of the coral. This piece is from early African art also known as “Queen Mother Pendant Mask: Iyoba”. Today, you can find this piece at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Although images of women are very rare this piece has come to symbolize the legacy of a dynasty that continues to the present day. In many of the African cultures the head is a very important, powerful and symbolic piece.
The head was consider to be the symbolic center of a person’s intelligence, wisdom, and ability to succeed in this world and/or to be a tool to be able to communicate with spiritual forces in the ancestral world. In Art of History, published in 2011, both Professor Marilyn Stokstad and Michael W. Cothren claim that “one of the honorifics used for the king is the “Great Head”. The head leads the body as the king leads the people. All of the memorial heads include representation of coral-beaded caps, necklaces and royal costume.
Coral, enclosing the head and displayed on the body, is still the ultimate symbol of the oba’s power and authority. ” In an article titled “Iyoba Idia: The Hidden Oba Of Benin” published in 2006, issue 9 of Jenda: A Journal Of Culture And African Women Studies – Nkiru Nzegwu wrote “Iron and copper inserts were embedded in these cavities in the original model and formed part of the decoration. Some have claimed that these cavities were receptacles for embedded magical potions, and there is a historical explanation for them.
The striations were the result of incisions a local doctor-diviner made to disfigure Idia and render her unattractive to Oba Ozolua. As narrated by the present Oba Erediauwa, Idia’s parents did not wish her to become an Oba’s wife, and the oracle they consulted advised that they mar her beauty to make her ugly to the Oba (Kaplan 1993, 59). The two incisions not only scarred her face but, to make assurance double sure, they also contained potent medicinal potions which the consulting physician-diviner had assured them would repel Oba Ozolua.
The royal explanation is that the plan failed because the Oba sensed that something was wrong before he even saw Idia and quickly neutralized the effects of the medicine. ” This is a pendant or ornament mask that represents an iyoba (queen mother-the oba’s mother), the senior female member of the royal court. It’s believed that this piece was produced in the early sixteenth century for the King or “Oba” Esigie, the king of Benin, who ruled from 1504 to 1550. This piece is to honor his mother, Idia.
There are different versions of the purpose of this piece. The most common ones is that this was used a as belt ornament and it was worn at the oba’s hip. The Oba may have worn it at rites commemorating his mother, although today such pendants are worn at annual ceremonies of spiritual renewal and purification. Esigie had the support of Ida and the Portuguese soldiers in the expansion of his kingdom. Ida is remembered for raising an army and using magical powers to help her son Esigie to defeat his enemies.