Commemorative Altar Head of Queen Mother


This finely sculpted head of a Benin Queen Mother would have been skilfully cast in bronze from a wax original by master craftsmen from Benin's metal casters' guild Igun Eronmwon. Oba Esigie created the powerful position of Iyoba, or Queen Mother, in the early 16th century in honour of his own mother Idia who helped him to defeat an invading army. This head appears to have been cast in the 16th century, so it may represent Idia herself. She is depicted wearing a peaked headdress of coral beads to show her special status. The Iyoba was given her own court with its own chiefs at a place called Uselu outside the old boundaries of the City of Benin. Only royal altars dedicated to previous Obas and previous Iyobas are permitted to have commemorative heads cast in bronze or brass placed on them. This head was given to the museum in 1899 by the steam ship engineer Arnold Ridyard, who would have acquired it that same year from an unknown intermediary in West Africa.