This terracotta head commemorated a deceased member of a royal family who lived in what is now south central Ghana. Such sculptures, viewed as substitutes for the deceased, were installed at formal funerals, which took place days or months after the actual burial. Although regarded as portraits, they offer only a stylized resemblance to the departed, with some specific aspects such as hairstyle, a beard or pierced ears.
Stylistically similar pieces have been found in archaeological contexts at Hemang (Twifo-Hemang) in southern Ghana, a site that was occupied from before 1690 to about 1730. The broad forehead, the semicircular eyebrows, the closed eyes whose form parallels a small mouth with upper and lower lips of equal size, and the naturalistic nose with open nostrils are characteristic of the Twifo style. The head bears scarification marks just below the temples.
When a royal personage died, a potter would be commissioned by the family to make a commemorative portrait along with sculptures representing family members, associates and servants. The potter would also be asked to make cooking pots and jars. This group of ceramic objects, produced for a special purpose and used only once, probably was assembled within the village where the funeral services were held. The female head or queen mother of another clan would prepare food in the pots. Then the figures, the food and the hearth would be moved to an area called the "place of pots," a spot outside the village reserved for funerary objects. The male head of the clan would taste the food, and the funeral party would return to the village, leaving the food, pots and portraits behind. Research suggests that such funerary practices, in which portrait figures played an important part, existed as early as the 17th century and lasted well into the 20th.
Ceramic naturalistic male head with coffee bean eyes and arched brows adorned with diagonal incisions. The head is bald at the crown, but with knob-like projections representing hair extending around the back of the head to the temples. Three raised vertical scarification marks on the proper right of the head and traces of the same on proper left.
Samir Borro, Côte d'Ivoire, -- to 1974
Emile M. Deletaille, Brussels, 1974 to 1986
Kreamer, Christine Mullen. 2003. " A Tribute to Roy Sieber: Part 2." African Arts 36 (2), p. 22, no. 25.
National Museum of African Art. 1999. Selected Works from the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 50, no. 29.