Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries & Historical Sites

Bronze Head from Ife

Arte yoruba, nigeria, testa da ife, 12-15mo secolo

Bronze Head from Ife

This Bronze Head from Ife is one of eighteen sculptures that were unearthed in 1938 at Ife in Nigeria, the religious and former royal centre of the Yoruba people.  Ife is regarded by the Yoruba people as the place where their deities created humans. It was made in the thirteenth century well before any European contact had taken place with the local population. The realism and sophisticated craftsmanship of the objects challenged Western conceptions of African art at the time.

The head is made using the lost wax technique and the artist designed the head in a very naturalistic style. The face is covered with incised striation, and the headdress consists of a crown composed of layers of tube-shaped beads and tassels. The kings crown is topped by a crest, with a rosette and a plume. The lifelike rendering of sculptures from mediaeval Ife is exceptional in sub-Saharan African art.

When the Ife heads first appeared in the Western World, experts could not believe that Africa had ever had a civilisation capable of creating craftmanship of this quality. Some experts speculated that an ancient European colony must have been established in the area to contribute to the technology and that this lost colony was linked to the old legends of the lost civilisations, such as Atlantis. Later excavations in Nigeria have provided scientific evidence of the existence of a metalworking culture and bronze artefacts that may be dated to the ninth or tenth centuries.

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“In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams.”
– Nigerian Proverb

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Photo Credit: 1) I, Sailko [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons