BENIN HEAD 12, NIGERIA

Photographs © Tim Hamill

BENIN, BRONZE KING'S HEAD 12, 11.5", $1000, SOLD

The extraordinary bronzes of the Benin kingdom in what is now Nigeria exhibit a virtuosity and sophistication of style that has astonished the Western world since they were visited in the 15th Century. Their work was brought to Europe following a punitive expedition by the British in 1897, causing a great sensation. The people of Benin, called Bini, are descended from the Ife, also known for their remarkable bronzes. Almost all Benin art was created to honor the king , or Oba, who has reigned, with his ancestors, from the 15th century. Styles have changed over the years. Although similar to many older works, these are all 20th C. pieces. Each is still sculpted by hand, then cast in bronze by the lost wax process. Heads that do not depict the king show members of his court or the Queen.

This head of a king is similar to those of the 18th C., with exaggerated forms developed after the classical or great period of Benin, when the bronzes stressed monumentality and effective representation of the monarch; solemn and unemotional, wide open eyes and tattoo scars on the forehead. The wide collar of coral beads is beautifully balanced by the geometric representation of the headdress, with a simplicity and symmetry that shows the true artistry of this remarkable people.

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