Royal Ancestral Head


This file appears in: Oba's Palace, Benin City, Nigeria
Royal Ancestral Head
Public Domain
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1979.206.87

This 10.75" high brass head once stood on an altar to a deceased Oba. Such heads have been cast since at least the 16th century, and represent monarchs without individualized physiognomies. Their style changed over the centuries, as did their number, size, and weight. They gradually became more abstract, the eyes enlarging, and they were thicker, larger, and heavier as well. Placed on the altars in pairs, they multiplied in number. The Oba is shown wearing a netted coral crown, as well as a stiff collar of stacked coral strands known as an odigba. 

The head would have been kept polished, and the original inset iron pupils would have stood in sharp contrast to the golden surface, producing a glaring effect. One is not supposed to look the living monarch directly in the eyes, and the inanimate stare would have been no less intimidating, reminding viewers of the power that royal ancestors wielded.


This file appears in: Oba's Palace, Benin City, Nigeria