She is a beauty queen and a favorite of many museum visitors, her tranquil demeanor and introspective gaze expressing what the Yoruba people consider a person’s inner spirituality.
Crowned by a simple ridged headdress, this royal portrait head was part of a larger figure now lost. Her neck is creased as though with fat, a sign of prosperity in Yoruba society. The vertical lines covering her face probably reflect the traditional scarification designs used in the Ife Kingdom or may represent the veil worn by the royal family.
Kingdom of Ife: sculptures from West Africa will tell the story of the legendary city of Ife (pronounced ee-feh) through some of the most refined and beautiful sculptures ever to be found in Africa.
Ife is rightly regarded as the birthplace of some of the highest achievements of African art and culture, combining technical accomplishment with strong aesthetic appeal. From the 12th to the 15th centuries, Ife flourished as a powerful, cosmopolitan and wealthy city-state in West Africa, in what is now modern Nigeria. It was an influential centre of trade connected to extensive local and long-distance trade networks which enabled the region to prosper. Ife developed a refined and highly naturalistic sculptural tradition in stone, terracotta, brass and copper-alloy to create a style unlike any in Africa at the time. The human figures portray a wide cross-section of Ife society and include depictions of youth and old age, health and disease, suffering and serenity. The almost pure copper mask of Obalufon II, an early Ooni (king) of Ife is one of the finest images of royal power from Ife.