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Head of an Oba

Head of an Oba, 16th century (ca. 1550)
Nigeria; Edo peoples, court of Benin
On view: Gallery 199

he idealized naturalism of this work reflects conventions of depicting the king at the prime of his life. The straightforward gazing eyes, which would have included iron inlays, possess the ability to see into the other world, communicating the divine power of the oba to survey his kingdom. The beaded headdress and collar are depictions of the king’s coral regalia. Coral is of particular importance to the Edo because of its associations with the ancestral realms of the sea and to the immense wealth of the oba gained through ocean-going trade with Europe.

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