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HOME : Decorative Arts : African Sculptures : Ife Style Bronze Sculpture of a Dignitary
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Ife Style Bronze Sculpture of a Dignitary - PF.6038
Origin: Nigeria
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 17.5" (44.5cm) high
Collection: African
Medium: Bronze

Location: United States
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Ife, the capital and religious center of southwest Nigeria, was one of the first Sub-Saharan cities to emerge at the end of the first millennium A.D. A substantial number of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic sculptures, made most frequently in terracotta although brass was also employed, were produced in the region between the 11th and the 15th centuries. This distinctive style is broadly referred to as “Ife,” even though some examples may come from other cities such as Owo. The brass objects especially are strikingly realistic, despite the fact they are almost certainly idealized portraits of dead kings, called Oni. The terracotta heads are more numerous and varied, no doubt a result of the comparative abundance and ease of working the material. Some of the faces, whether made of brass or terracotta, carry vertical parallel incisions, possibly representing scarification or body paint.

This bronze sculpture, truncated at the figure’s waist, is a fine example of the Ife style. The overall molding of the figure and forms is remarkably naturalistic considering the general level of abstraction present in most styles of African art. The figure wears a tight fitting conical cap with a large projecting central crest with a star-shaped emblem. Such caps and ornaments occur frequently in Ife portraiture. This crown probably symbolizes the figure’s royal status, as does the series of intricately sculpted necklaces and pendants that weigh down his shoulders. Such necklaces and bracelets were, and still are, a sign of wealth and rank in African society. The figure also bears the pattern of vertical parallel incisions that is the hallmark of the Ife style across his torso and face. This magnificent sculpture reveals all the tremendous luxury and wealth that is Ife, home to one of the greatest artistic flourishings that Africa, and the world, have known.
- (PF.6038)


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