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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Archive : Yoruba Ivory Mother and Child Figure
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Yoruba Ivory Mother and Child Figure - SP.144B (LSO)
Origin: Nigeria
Circa: 19 th Century AD to 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 11" (27.9cm) high x 3" (7.6cm) wide
Collection: African Art
Style: Yoruba
Medium: Ivory
Condition: Extra Fine

Additional Information: sold

Location: UAE
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This supremely elegant and refined piece of ivory carving was made by the Yoruba of Nigeria. It comprises a kneeling woman with a child on her back, supporting a water jar (?) on her ornate coiffure. Her body is superbly rendered, as a series of rounded, interlocking and graceful curves that contrasts with the fine detail on her face and hair. The limbs – and those of her child – are long and slender. The child’s face is turned to the right, while the woman looks straight ahead with a meditative expression on her fine features. The piece has an unusually fine, dark, glossy patina.

The Yoruba peoples of Nigeria have what is probably the longest extant artistic tradition in Africa. The nation state is comprised of numerous subsections that were joined historically by the rise and collapse of the Ife (12th to 15th centuries) and Benin (13th to 19th centuries) polities. Each of the sub- kingdoms – including Oyo, Ijebu and smaller units towards the west – had their heyday, and are loosely united through language and culture, although they still retain a measure of independence in terms of their artistic traditions.

The Yoruba are ruled by hereditary kings known as Obas, and their access to the supernatural world is supervised by priests (Olowa) and intermediaries (“Babalawo” diviners). Their cosmology is arranged in terms of the tangible realm of the living (aye) and the invisible realm of the spirits and the hereafter (orun). The creator of the world is Olodumare, who is the source of all ase – life force. Orun is populated by all manner of spirits, gods (orisa) and ancestors (ara orun), all of whom influence the living. Most Yoruban artistic heritage is designed to thwart evil spirits, and to placate or honour those that bring good fortune to the populace.

Pieces such as this served various purposes in Yoruba society and it is not always possible to identify the specific task the object was designed to perform. Given its size, it ma be a divination piece, or, more likely, a shrine figure to a goddess such as Oya or one of Shango’s lesser supporters. The fact that it is made of ivory is significant as this precious material was reserved for use only by elites. The dark colouring is indicative of considerable age and perhaps libations, indicating its value to Yoruban society.

This is a superb piece of African art.

- (SP.144B (LSO))


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