late 1600s-early 1700s
Overall: 19.1 x 13.6 x 15.5 cm (7 1/2 x 5 3/8 x 6 1/8 in.)
Edwin R. and Harriet Pelton Perkins Memorial Fund 1990.22
The woman who sculpted this head did so without making a sketch, working from her memory of the subject.
This is an idealized portrait of an Akan royal. During their lifetime, Akan royal family members commissioned terracotta portraits like this one from female artists. Following their death and burial, their family placed these sculptures in a sacred grove where they would place food or other supportive offerings throughout the year. Families of those to be memorialized handpicked the artist, who visited their subject multiple times to commit their essence to memory. The calm and serenity of the figure's closed eyes and slightly smiling lips exemplifies an ideal Akan royal, who is cool and composed. Once the royal features were set, the artist added details of the individual by drawing upon her memory of them. The markings on the temples and cheekbones of this head may have had a medicinal or protective purpose. They had a fashionably styled shaved head with curls and a soft tiered bun, an expression of their gender and status, something hard to confirm centuries later. Ultimately, this sculpture is a dialogue between royalty and the individual, as well as a dialogue between the viewer and the sculpture. The viewer must read between the lines to construct the memory of the individual.
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