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Chief's Altar Tusk

Location

NIGERIA, SOUTHERN REGION

Era

Kingdom of Benin (about 1280-present)

Title

Chief's Altar Tusk

Date

19th c.

Materials

Ivory

Dimensions

92.5 x 10 x 24 cm

Credits

Purchase, Decorative Arts Acquisition Fund, inv. 1956.F.1

Collection

Archeology and World Cultures

Among the Edo, wood and ivory sculpture was the work of a hereditary guild (Igbesamwan). Ivory was a material particularly esteemed for its whiteness, that colour being associated with purity and with Olokun, the deity of bodies of water. It acquired even more value for the elites of the Benin kingdom following the increase of its trade with Europeans. Large altar tusks only appeared in the late eighteenth century. This tusk was commissioned by a chief, possibly the main figure visible on the second level. Read from bottom to top, the reliefs justify the legitimacy of his power. From the collection of Dr. Robert Allman, Principal Medical Officer in the British Army, it was probably looted during the 1897 British punitive expedition.

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