the most elaborate court art in Africa comes from the country of Benin (once called Dahomey), home of the Fon kingdom, and from western Nigeria, home of the Yoruba and Edo kingdoms. Benin City, in Nigeria, is the capital of the Edo-speaking people.

The Fon kingdom was established in the early 17th century. Artists working for the royal court created iron sculptures and staffs that were placed in the memorial temples of palace officials. Much Fon art incorporates animal imagery, symbolically associated with royalty and with proverbs that reinforce moral laws and the power of rulers.

Since the seventeenth century, Yoruba-speaking peoples have been organized in a series of kingdoms. Carvings by well-known artists grace royal courtyards as architectural elements. Doors and verandah posts, like the bowls and trays used in ifa divination ceremonies, depict the exploits of particular rulers as well as the activities of ordinary people. Much Yoruba art is made in association with deities known as orisha, each associated with particular iconography. Eshu, the trickster; Shango, the god of thunder; and Ogun, the god of iron are among the best known orisha. Masks and headdresses are made to honor ancestors, ward off evil, and honor important members of the community.

The kingdom of Benin in Nigeria is the source of some of the best known works of art from Africa. For more than five hundred years, metal workers have been making objects that enhance the prestige of the king, or oba. Brass plaques decorate palace walls, and terra-cotta, wood, and brass heads representing male and female royal ancestors are placed on memorial shrines.

Memorial Staff: Asen
Fon/Hweda/Yoruba peoples, town of Ouidah,
Republic of Benin
Attributed artist: Akati Akpele Kendo, Master of the Long-Horned Ram (fl. 1858-89)
Wrought iron, raffia, wood, organic materials
Gift of Françoise Billion Richardson, 89.257 (cat. 31)

Egungun Masquerade Dance Costume:
Ekuu Egungun

Early 20th century
Yoruba peoples, Oyo region, Nigeria
Cloth, metallic thread, glass beads, cowrie shells
Museum purchase: Friends of Ethnographic Art Fund, 92.54 (cat. 44)

Veranda Post: Opo Ile
c. 1910-1914
Yoruba peoples, palace of the Ogoga, city of Ikerre, Ekiti region, Nigeria
Carver: Olowe of Ise (c. 1875-1938)
Wood, polychrome
Museum purchase: Ella West Freeman Matching Fund, 70.20 (cat. 33)

Leopard-Head Hip Ornament:

16th-19th century
Edo peoples, Benin Kingdom, Nigeria
Brass, iron
Gift of Françoise Billion Richardson in memory of her sister Armande Billion, 90.32 (cat. 53)

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