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ID number:  BIRBI-48.1
Institution:  The Barber Institute of Fine Arts
Artist / Maker:  West African
Title / Object name:  An altarpiece for the altar of a queen mother
Object type:  Sculpture
Culture:  West African
Date made:  18th/19th century
Materials:  Brass
Measurements:  21.3 x 26.7cm diameter at base
BIRBI-48.1.jpg

In the royal court of Benin, Nigeria, the iyoba or queen mother, enjoyed great political importance. Indeed, she benefitted from many of the privileges granted to high-ranking men in Benin culture. She is depicted here as the most prominent figure on a brass hand altar. These altars were usually made to celebrate an individual’s accomplishments which the queen mother would have been accorded by virtue of her relationship to her son, the king. In this, and similar sculptures, she can be identified by her size, her crown, jewellery and high collar. Here she is flanked by two female attendants who were traditionally raised in the royal palace by the iyoba herself. These women were respected for their education and refinement and were usually offered in diplomatic marriages to reinforce political alliances with important chiefs of other tribes.

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