The Art of Benin and Ile-Ife

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In 1911 a German ethnographer, Leo Frobenius visited Ile-Ife and discovered some sculptures that the local people dug up to use in religious rituals and then returned to the earth. The statues in bronze and terra cotta were so naturalistic that he did not believe that they were made by Africans. He insisted that he had discovered the remains of the lost Greek city of Atlantis. Study by other archeologists revealed that this art was the work of the Yoruba of Ile-Ife between 1000 to 1399. Since then, the Art of the Yoruba people of Ile Ife and Benin continues to attract art lovers all over the world.

Benin Head of an Oba, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Bronze Head from Ile Ife

Ile Ife Brass Head 12th - 15th century
31 x 19 x 25 cm (12 3/16 x 7 1/2 x 9 7/8 in.)
The National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria

Ile-Ife Shrine Head, Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Leopard Heae

leopard head hip pendant worn by important military officers in Benin - the leopard was the symbol of the oba (ruler) and if given to an officer was a symbol that he could take human life, a right reserved to the oba. Bronze pendants, worn at the hip, took the form of human, ram, crocodile, baboon, and leopard heads.

Part of The Yoruba African Kingdoms Exhibit

African Kingdoms Primary Sources


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