Benin Sculpture of an Altar - PF.6063
Origin: Nigeria
Circa: 19 th Century AD to 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 6.5" (16.5cm) high
Collection: African
Style: Benin
Medium: Bronze


The art of Benin is the product of an urban royal court, and is meant to symbolize and to extol the power, mystique, grandeur, continuity, and endurance of the ruling dynasty. Benin was controlled by the Oba, a divine ruler at the head of the political system. As the office of the Oba became increasingly ceremonial and the art produced evolved into an instrument of the state, as seen in this work. This diminutive sculpture represents a ceremonial altar. The head of an Oba, likely either sculpted in bronze or wood, rests on top of the altar to be properly worshipped and honored. A carved ivory tusk that would have emerged from the center of the head can be seen replicated here as well. The round altar is covered with faces and would have originally been carved out of wood, utilizing the natural shape of the tree trunk. Even in this replica of an altar, the importance of the Oba can be easily construed. The prominent place atop the altar alone suggests prestige, further emphasized by the increased scale and overall refinement of the Oba’s head when compared to the relief faces along the altar. The spectacular ornamentation of the Oba, including coral necklaces and an elaborated crowned webbed in coral and ivory beads. This sculpture represents one of the most sacred places in a Benin community. Here, the villagers could pay their respect to their deceased ancestors and ruler. Perhaps this work was meant to be a traveling altar that a dignitary could bring along with him on his travels to neighboring cultures. - (PF.6063)



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