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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Yoruba Terracotta Vessels : Yoruba Terracotta Ceremonial Vessel
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Yoruba Terracotta Ceremonial Vessel - PF.2303 (LSO)
Origin: South-Western Nigeria
Circa: 19 th Century AD to 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 14.5" (36.8cm) high x 9.75" (24.8cm) wide
Catalogue: V12
Collection: African
Medium: Terracotta

Location: United States
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This harmonious piece is a ritual vessel made by the Yoruba tribe of modern-day Nigeria. It comprises a globular vessel with rounded, integral base, clinched just below the rim and flaring outward. The corpus of the pot is decorated with a series of small eminences and a pair of handles. The pot is capped with a conical lid, decorated with incised lines and a seated woman, holding a small libation vessel on her lap. She is adorned with various eminences and detailing, and seems to be naked judging from her breasts which jut out over the vessel she is holding. Her face is serene and composed, with a triangular nose, coffee-bean eyes, a narrow mouth and two sets of four scars on each cheek. Her coiffure is complex and crested, with incised detailing. The clay is blackened and darkened through use and perhaps the application of libations.

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. It is extremely hard to summarise the nature of Yoruba society given the large area they cover and the inevitable variability of their customs.

The Yoruba – being a large, complex society – is sedentary, agriculturist and hierarchical. They are ruled by hereditary kings known as Obas, and their access to the supernatural world is supervised by a very complex arrangement of priests (i.e. Olowa) and spiritual intermediaries. 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). Their relationship is sometimes described as being that of a gourd with tightly-interlocking upper and lower halves, or as a divination board with a raised rim and a depressed centre. The creator of the world is Olodumare (or Odumare, Olorun, Eleda or Eleemi, depending on the area), who is the source of all ase – life force. Orun is populated by all manner of spirits (iwin, ajogun, egbe and oro), gods (orisa) and ancestors (ara orun), all of whom influence the living. They can all be reached, appealed to or appeased through human intermediaries such as the babalawo (diviner). Most Yoruban artistic heritage is designed to thwart evil spirits, and to placate or honour those that bring good fortune to the populace.

A piece such as this may have been used as a sacrificial “altar” for offerings, or perhaps just for the careful storage of valuable objects, or even food. Whatever its purpose, it is a striking piece and a worthy addition to any collection.

- (PF.2303 (LSO))


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