This regal head commemorates the important central role in Benin politics fulfilled by the Queen Mother, or lye oba, who held the rank of a high chief. Her son, the king, consulted with her about all questions of leadership and policy making during his reign. Ironically, all direct contact between the king and his mother was forbidden; they communicated from separate palaces through messengers. This bronze head, which shows the queen's distinctive "chicken's beak" hairdo, would have adorned the ancestral shrine established in her honor after her death.
Artist Benin, African
Title
  • Royal Portrait
Date between 1750 and 1850
Medium Bronze, cast
Dimensions Sight: 21 × 10 1/2 × 10 1/2 inches (53.3 × 26.7 × 26.7 cm)
Credit Line City of Detroit Purchase
Accession Number 26.180
Department Africa, Oceania & Indigenous Americas
On View African: Fit for a King, Level 1 (see map)
Fritz Gurlitt (Germany);
1926-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Masterpieces of Art in Memory of W.R. Valentiner. Exh. cat., North Carolina Museum of Art. Raleigh, April 6 - May 17, 1959, no. 217.

World Primitive Art. Exh. cat., The University Art Gallery, Oakland University. Rochester Michigan, November 4 - 29, 1965.

Detroit Collects African Art. Exh. cat., DIA. Detroit, April 21-May 29, 1977, no. 86 (ill.).

African Masterworks In The Detroit Institute of Arts. Washington and London: The Detroit Institute of Arts and Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995, cat. no. 33.