Commemorative Altar Head; Uhunmwun Elao


This cast brass commemorative altarpiece represents the head of an Oba, wearing a coral bead headpiece and necklaces. It would have been commissioned as one of a pair to be placed symmetrically on the shrine of a deceased Oba by his successor. The circular hole in the top of the head was designed to support a commemorative elephant tusk. Such tusks (see were typically carved with relief imagery that reflected the authority and divine attributes of the Oba. A lot of brass would have gone into the casting of this head. Large quantities of brass became available when Benin’s trade with European merchants was revived in the 18th century. This head was purchased in October 1897 from A. Hewer who was probably a dealer.