African Lost-Wax Casting: The Tada Figure

Works of Art


Among the most well known of the works produced by Ife casters are a series of naturalistic heads. Despite the difficulties, Ife smiths cast many fine works in nearly pure copper. The seated Tada figure, dated to the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century and named for the village in which it was found, is one of the finest works in this tradition. It is hollow-cast and, at fifty-four centimeters tall, half-lifesize. The sculpture was cast in several separate pourings. Though found on the bank of the Niger River far north of Ife, the work shares the stylistic naturalism of other Ife metal and terracotta works. The naturalistic proportions of head and body and lifelike limbs, arms, and torso are some of the distinctive features of this style. Also characteristic of Ife culture, the figure wears a wrapper with a sash tied on the left hip.

By the time the art world first learned of this piece, it had been reintegrated into contemporary ritual practice. The sculpture of the seated man was scrubbed every Friday with gravel from the Niger’s riverbed by Tada villagers, who believed that this ritual would ensure their own fertility and that of the fish on which they subsist. The abraded surface of the Tada man is the result of this weekly ritual scrubbing.

Alice Apley
Independent Scholar

October 2001


Apley, Alice. “African Lost-Wax Casting: The Tada Figure.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2001)

Further Reading

Burland, C. A. Lost Wax: Metal Casting on the Guinea Coast. Exhibition catalogue.. London: The Studio, 1957.

Drewal, Henry John, John Pemberton III, and Rowland Abiodun. Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought. New York: Center for African Art, 1989.

Eyo, Ekpo, and Frank Willett Treasures of Ancient Nigeria. Exhibition catalogue. New York: Knopf, 1980.

Additional Essays by Alice Apley