head of queen mother

Edo people
Benin Kingdom
Creation date
brass, iron
H: 17 1/8
Credit line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harrison Eiteljorg
Accession number
Currently On View In
Eiteljorg Suite of African and Oceanic Art - W302

Altars were maintained to commemorate past kings (Obas).  These altars supported a variety of ritual objects, such as human heads of cast brass, which were the focus of periodic rituals.  These rituals honored past royals.  The altar heads served as a spiritual link between royal ancestors and the Edo people of the Benin Kingdom.

All queen mother heads include a distinct one-shaped crown and collar.  In life, the crown and collar were composed primarily of high status imported red coral beads.  Over the eyes are scarifications, and between these are two marks indicating smears of sacrificial blood.

Objects of cast brass are made by the lost-wax technique.  A brass caster begins with a lump of beeswax, which is modeled into the object being made.  Details are impressed into the wax or applied with threads of additional wax.  After the wax model is finished, it is covered with clay and left to dry for several days.

The clay covering is then heated to remove the wax, hence the term "lost-wax."  Molten brass is poured into the empty space once occupied by the wax.  The clay mold is plunged into water and broken open.  The brass casting is then removed and its surface is cleaned.

{1} sold jointly by Papa Diop and Robert John December 14, 1977 to Harrison Eiteljorg, Indianapolis [1903-1997] {2} who gave it to the Indianapolis Museum of Art 1989
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