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Catalog Data

Benin kingdom court style  Search this
Edo artist  Search this
Copper alloy, iron
H x W x D: 21.6 x 14 x 7 cm (8 1/2 x 5 1/2 x 2 3/4 in.)
Late 18th to mid-19th century
Label Text:
Chiefs of all ranks wear a copper alloy pendant in the form of a human or leopard face on their left hips when dressed in full court regalia. This tradition is documented in the dress of figures on palace plaques from the 17th century.
This pendant depicts an Edo man, identified by the three raised scars over each eye. He is a person of rank, as shown by his openwork cap of coral beads with bead clusters. An association with spiritual power is represented by the collar of mythical fish or mudfish, emblems of transformation and survival.
Unfortunately, later Western applications of pigment and polish have obscured the natural patina. Originally this casting would have displayed the caster's expertise through its varied colored metals: inlaid iron pupils, a textured brass strip on the nose and alternating alloys of copper in the fish.
Cast copper alloy pendant mask in the form of a human face with openwork lattice headdress, beard of nine mudfish and iron inlay eyes.
Aaron Furman Gallery, New York, -- 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:
Currents: Water in African Art, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., June 2016-ongoing
Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., April 22, 2013-February 23, 2014; Fowler Museum at UCLA, University of California, Los Angeles, April 19-September 14, 2014; Bowdoin College Museum of Art, October 15, 2015-March 9, 2016
Published References:
Freyer, Bryna. 1987. Royal Benin Art in the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, p. 57, no. 11.
Milbourne, Karen E. 2013. Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa. New York: The Monacelli Press; Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 105, no. 80.
Moffett, Dana and Stephen P. Mellor. 2003. The Curator-Conservator Collaboration: Remembering Roy Sieber." African Arts 36 (2), pp. 46-47, no. 4.
Schrenk, J. L. 1994. The Royal Art of Benin: Surfaces, Past and Present. Ancient and Historic Metals. Proceedings of a symposium organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum and Getty Conservation Institute, November 1991. Ed. D. A. Scott, J. Podany and B. Considine. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Trust.
Status  Search this
Adornment  Search this
mudfish  Search this
male  Search this
Credit Line:
Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn to the Smithsonian Institution in 1966
Object number:
Restrictions & Rights:
See more items in:
National Museum of African Art Collection
Currents: Water in African Art
On View:
NMAfA, Second Level Concourse
Data Source:
National Museum of African Art