Nigeria; Benin, Udo (?)
H. 6 1/10 in. (15.49 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.301)
This semicircular ornament was likely the property of a provincial chief allied to the Benin kingdom, in what is today southern Nigeria. As the Benin kingdom expanded its territory, it disseminated its courtly traditions among the ethnically diverse peoples who were incorporated into its political structure. Regional rulers frequently appropriated and reconfigured Benin's symbols of power for their own use at the local level. In this example, a standard motif from Benin royal art, a central chief flanked by two attendants who support his arms, has been represented in a distinctive style.
This depiction of a leader as he appears in public emphasizes the idea of a ruler's reliance on the support of his subjects. Appearing at a chiefly court far removed from the kingdom of Benin's center, however, the motif may have been adopted as a straightforward symbol of chiefly power demonstrating connections to royal authority. The style of dress is evidently based on costumes from the Benin court, as the chief is depicted wearing an elaborate wrapper, high collar, and headdress reminiscent of those depicted in royal sculpture from the capital. With their willowy arms and legs, bulbous heads, and coffee-bean eyes, however, these figures represent a significant stylistic departure from comparable works created in Benin City, the capital of the kingdom of Benin.