Commemorative Altar head; Uhunmwun Elao


The head had great significance in Edo philosophy as the seat of a person’s destiny, wisdom and supernatural guidance. It was this attribute that made the head such an important and persistent focus for commemorative art and royal altar pieces. This finely cast head probably dates from the earliest period of Edo court sculpture, before European contact in the late 15th century. The head may be smaller and more finely cast than later versions due to the fact that bronze or brass would have been scarce in the period before European contact. Although this head is described in museum records as having been acquired in exchange from the Field Columbian Museum Chicago, probably only the money for its purchase came from the Field Museum, because the Field Museum has no record of having accessioned it. The director of the Liverpool Museum Henry Ogg Forbes was in contact with dealers who were offering him Benin items in 1899 and he acted as an agent in acquiring Benin bronzes for the Field Museum.