Queen Mother heads are a common artform in Benin culture. They were created to honor the mother of the king, who often has a helping hand in her son’s reign. These heads come in many shapes and sizes and each one is unique since they are created using the lost-wax casting method. This particular head measures 23 inches tall and weighs 13 pounds. There is some corrosion, imperfections and wear and tear – please inspect photos.
Benin Bronze Queen Mother Head 23″ – Nigeria – African Art
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Imperfections and wear and tear throughout. See photos or inquire for more details.
About the Benin People
The people living in the Benin kingdom are a mixture of many cultures. Originally, the Edo people, who inhabited the area, became displeased with their ruler and invited an Ife prince to rule instead. The son of the Ife prince became the first Oba (king) of Benin, but local chiefs still had ultimate control to make decisions. In the late 13th century, Oba Ewedo would be the first king to assert his power and display absolute authority.
In the 15th century, the kingdom of Benin was expanded to a large empire under the rule of Ewuare the Great. He ordered giant walls and moats to be constructed to surround his palace. These walls, later unearthed, were estimated that it would have taken a workforce of 1000, working 7 days a week, 10-hour days, about 5 dry seasons to complete. A huge, fanatical task.
The Benin empire continued until the late 1800’s, when the British invaded, captured and burned Benin City, known as the British Expedition.
In 1897, an army of British soldiers raided Benin City in retaliation of a previous battle in which all but 2 men had perished. They burned homes, religious buildings and palaces. The city’s walls, estimated to be four times longer in total than the Great Wall of China, was left in ruins. Once the British secured the city, they began looting. Over 2500 religious artifacts and pieces of art were sent to England. They began auctioning off the artwork to cover the war expenses, some spreading to European museums while others have been lost forever.
Read more about the Benin here.
About Lost-Wax Casting Method
In-direct lost wax casting is the most basic form of metal casting seen in African cultures. Scholars have yet to establish exactly how it was introduced and developed in West African regions, but it is known that it was being used prior to Portuguese explorers’ arrival in the late 1400’s.
To use this method, the artist must begin with a low melting point material that can retain its shape but is soft enough to carve intricate details into, such as beeswax. Once the artist finishes carving the details, layers of clay are applied to the outside and then left to dry. The first layer of clay applied takes on the details, while the additional layers of coarser clay provide strength to the entirety of the mold. Once fired, the wax is then melted, leaving only the baked clay shell. Liquid metal is then poured into the empty clay mold. Once the metal has hardened and cooled, the clay exterior is then broken. This process reveals the finished metal object, which is always unique due to the mold being destroyed during the final process.
Many West African sculptors have altered this method by using multiple castings, which can be used to create hollowed and thin metal figures. One of the ways to achieve the hollowed result is creating the wax sculptures over a formed clay core. Iron spikes are used to attach the solid clay core to the clay layers of the mold. The metal is then poured inside and left to cool and hardened. At the end of the process, the clay core is then broken up and removed and the final brass work is finished. These hollowed pieces can then be united to create larger figures or vessels.
Apley, Alice. (2001, October) African Lost-Wax Casting Essay. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/wax/hd_wax.htm
About the Queen Mother Head
Queen Mother Heads were originally created in representation of Queen Idia from the 16th century. With her mystical powers and political counsel, she is credited with significantly aiding her son to victory during a civil war. To honor his mother, the king created a new position within the court called iyoba or ‘Queen Mother’. After Queen Idia’s death, the king had brass heads casted in dedication of his mother and placed them on altars throughout the palace. There are 4 known original castings that are on display at various museums today, all others are considered replicas. Because each cast is done using the lost-wax casting method, no two pieces are identical.