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Catalog Data

Benin kingdom court style  Search this
Edo artist  Search this
H x W x D: 9.8 x 7.3 x 8.2 cm (3 7/8 x 2 7/8 x 3 1/4 in.)
16th-19th century
Label Text:
This terracotta head has the tiered hairstyle and chin unobstructed by beaded neckrings that is associated with the cast copper alloy trophy heads from the Benin Kingdom. It has different functions. Today the court brass casters guild place such heads on their ancestral altars. This distinguishes them from chiefs who use wood heads and from the king who has cast copper alloy heads. It recalls the clay cores that the casters model and cover with wax to create the royal heads.
The brasscasters' oral traditions say that originally terracotta heads were used by the Ogiso, the 13th century rulers that preceded the present ruling dynasty. These heads were also once used in the section of the city known as "the sons of the soil," built during the Ogiso period, and by the guild responsible for purifying the earth after taboos have been broken. The style and material may be meant to symbolize that the Ogiso were Edo, while the next (and still present) dynasty traces their descent from Eweka, son of Oranmiyan who came from the Yoruba city of Ife.
Low fired unglazed red ceramic head with tiered hairstyle, beaded necklace and a hole from the top of the head through the neck. Traces of white pigment remain on the eyes.
Robert Stolper, London, 1958 to 1959
Joseph H. Hirshhorn, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1959 to 1966
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1966 to 1985
Exhibition History:
From the Earth: African Ceramic Art, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., May 17-October 9, 1983
Commemorative  Search this
Ancestral  Search this
Shrine/Altar  Search this
Male use  Search this
male  Search this
Credit Line:
Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn to the Smithsonian Institution in 1966
Object number:
Restrictions & Rights:
Usage conditions apply
See more items in:
National Museum of African Art Collection
Data Source:
National Museum of African Art