Ife Royal Odududwa Bronze Head, Nigeria
This Ife bronze head from the Yoruba people of western Nigeria is an excellent example of their handiwork. The Yoruba reached their artistic pinnacle between 1100 – 13oo AD. This bronze cast represents Odududwa, who is said to be the ancestor of the Yoruba people.
The head is very similar to one of eighteen copper alloy sculptures which was found by English archaeologists in 1938 at Ife in Nigeria, the religious and former royal center of the Yoruba people. This Ife head was taken to the British Museum a year later. It is believed to represent a king, and was probably made in the thirteenth-fourteenth Century, before any European contact with the local population.
When the Ife heads first appeared many experts compared them to the highest achievements of ancient Roman or Greek art. When Leo Frobenius discovered the first example of a similar head it undermined existing Western understanding of African civilization. Experts could not believe that Africa had ever had a civilization capable of creating artefacts of this quality. Attempting to explain what was thought an anomaly, Frobenius offered his theory that these had been cast by a colony of ancient Greeks established in the thirteenth century BC. He made a claim, widely circulated in the popular press, that his hypothesized ancient Greek colony could be the origin of the ancient legend of the lost civilization of Atlantis.
Provenance: From the heirs of a private collector in South Africa. It is unknown where the collector got the head from.
Condition: The head is in perfect condition and appears in a dark patinated copper-bronze color. No bumps, but quite small, almost invisible cracks in between the ‘neck folds’. A series of small holes around the perimeter of the mouth were for attaching a beard made of glass beads.
Dimensions: H: 53, W: 21, D: 27 cm. – Weight: 5 kilos.
Suzanne Preston Blier, Art and Risk in Ancient Yoruba: Ife History, Politics, and Identity c.1300, Cambridge University Press, 2015.
John Mack (ed), Africa, Arts and Cultures, London 2005
Editha Platte, Bronze Head from Ife, British Museum Press, 2010