Pendant mask; regalia; carved from ivory. In form of naturalistic human face. Hairstyle carved in low relief; head crowned with circlet of European heads inlaid with copper alloy. Decorative pierced lattice-work ruff below chin inlaid with copper alloy; series of suspension loops around outside. Two vertical bars incised into forehead inlaid with iron. Four scarification marks carved above each eye. Iron inlay around eyes; pupils inlaid wth iron. Two suspension loops on each side of face.
This is one of five stylistically similar ivory hip-pendants that were produced specifically for the use of the Oba during the sixteenth century. Three of the other masks of this type are in public collections in the UK and the USA. They are recorded as being found in a cache in the bedchamber of the Oba in Benin City and were looted during the British expedition of 1897. These hip-pendants are thought to represent Queen Mother Idia, the mother of Oba Esigie (c.1504-1550), celebrated as one of the great ‘warrior kings’, who ruled in the sixteenth century. Esigie created the title of Queen Mother in honour of Idia and in gratitude for her efforts in supporting his military campaigns. These pendants are widely considered as some of the finest ivory carvings in the Benin corpus. They are also among the most enduring and emotive examples of the representation of women in Benin court art. ~This type of mask was worn by the Oba, on the hip, during important ceremonies. The mask is said to represent Idia, mother of Oba Esigie who ruled in the sixteenth century. The top of the hip mask is decorated with heads representing the Portuguese, symbolizing Benin's alliance with and control over Europeans. The Portuguese continued to appear in Benin art long after they had disappeared from Benin itself. P. Girshick Ben-Amos, The Art of Benin (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)