15 DAN MASK, CÔTE D’IVOIRE Hard wood with brown patina partially crusty, iron, (native restoration)
This anthropozoomorphic Dan mask has real presence. Its cubist lines reveal eyes split beneath a concave-convex forehead. Side on, the long projection echoes the lines of a beak with disjointed jaws. High cheekbones are carved in flat sections, the split eyes stand out for hooded eyelids. The patina is crusty in places which reinforces the idea of severity. Wide hooks were put on the top of the head and this tribal restoration shows us how important this ancient piece was to its original owner/s. In a 1947 publication by the Peabody Museum, Tribes of the Liberian Hinterland, a similar mask (but with less tormented parts) described as a mask for judges to settle conflicts (the dog - a forager for the Poro). The full volumes on this piece are similar to one from the southern regions of the Dan area and are reminiscent of the filiation with sculpted Tee Gla war masks which also had multiple projections.
braids on the forehead and a loose, short spiralling braid on the left of the face. The peak at the top of the head or “oro” is a sign of good lineage, affiliation to Benin’s first kings and appears in both Ooton and Osuan portraits. The arms bent in a symmetrical and slanting movement each hold a bark-less cane, mainly an Osuan emblem. These canes, “uwenrhien-otan”, enabled the priest to signal the start of sacrificial ceremonies and chase away evil spirits during the times of human sacrifice. “Several altars in the palace were devoted to a multitude of gods and elders. The Osuan is one of two high priests to preside over the Ebo n’Edo, an ancient altar devoted to Uwen and Ora, two divine creatures embodied in sacred Ife amulets that Prince Oranmiyan imported to Benin. These gods were said to control the natural elements to watch over the Benin people and dynasty. According to popular belief, the amount of rain, wind strength, heat of the sun, fertility of the soil and man could be manipulated by anyone initiated in the secrets of Uwen and Ora” (Benin – Five centuries of royal art, page 327). This piece is similar to one at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg (coll. Gisela Clausen, inv. 1911-454)(ill. 1) of an Osuan and two other figures. The Osuan is holding his ritual canes vertically, his long robe, headdress and ankle bracelets have many features in common with our example. A second plate of an Ooton brandishing a cane at the Ethnologisches Museum - Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (collection Heinrich Bey, inv. III C 8409)(ill. 2) can also be compared in terms of its subject and typical robe and headdress. The standard of the casting, the deep brown patina crusted with red ochre clay in places and the rarity of the subject make our piece a fine example of Benin’s historical art.
16 IMPORTANT EDO PLAQUE, BENIN KINGDOM, NIGERIA Bronze alloy
Publication : - Rasmussen René, Art Nègre, Paris, 1951, fig.25 - Bantel Linda, The Alice M. Kaplan Collection, Columbia University, 1981, p.68, fig.28
Fig. 1 - Museum de Hambourg ©DR
Fig. 2 - Museum de Berlin ©DR
17 JANUS-FACED HELMET MASK (AGBANABO ?), IGALA, NIGERIA Hardwood with dark brown glossy black patina, white pigments
Westerners mainly know of Benin’s court art through its detailed ivories and metalwork. In the 12th century, Dutchman Olfert Dapper enthusiastically described the splendid Oba Palace, a walled-in site whose maze of buildings were home to several apartments for the king’s advisors, “with beautiful arcades, most of which are as big as the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. They are supported by wooden pillars set in copper, engraved with their victories and which are kept clean” (O. Dapper, 1686, page 308; 1989, pages 227-228). Two centuries later during the famous British punitive expedition in 1897, approximately 900 rectangular plates were seized. Most of them went to the British Museum and the rest went finally to museums in Dresden, Munich, Vienna, Cologne and Leipzig to name but a few. The plates are made using a lost-w