Ancestral Commemorative Head (uhunmwun-elao)

Ancestral Commemorative Head (uhunmwun-elao)

possibly mid-1500s or early 1600s

Copper alloy and iron

Overall: 29.9 x 21.6 x 20.4 cm (11 3/4 x 8 1/2 x 8 1/16 in.)

Dudley P. Allen Fund 1938.6

Did you know?

The obas (kings) of the Benin Kingdom still wear coral headpieces and jewelry like this sculpted head depicts.


Brass heads are among many objects a new Ọba commissions when dedicating a shrine to their predecessor. This head of an Ọba wears layered necklaces of royal coral beads. Tubular beads adorn both the netted cap and slender braids alongside his temples. While representing an individual, his facial features and calm expression are idealized. The thickly cast head once supported a tusk. Immune to corrosion, brass symbolizes royal permanence. A personal religious object, this head sat on an ancestral altar in the Ọba’s palace. Like many works taken from Benin altars, this contrasts with its present-day public display in an American museum.

See also
African Art
African Art
Type of artwork: 
Credit line: 
Dudley P. Allen Fund

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