MAf 34574

Please find more information about the object below the image.

Producer unknown to us

Altar tableau (Urhoto)

Africa, Nigeria, former Kingdom of Benin

Prior 1897


Hans Meyer (colonial geographer, publisher) purchased the bronze from the British ethnographic dealer William Downing Webster from 1898 onwards

Loaned by Meyer between 1900–1919, from 1929 permanent loan by Elisabeth Meyer, purchased from Meyer's heirs in 2001

MAf 34574

This altar piece depicts the Iyoba, the king's mother, during a ceremony. Rituals played an important role in the Kingdom of Benin – they were highly organized forms of celebration, they were meant to appease the ancestors and the deities. Works like this, like the altar tableau, serve as recordings of the kingdom’s rituals and ceremonies. They display social norms and hierarchies and formerly served to instruct successive generations.

The Iyoba title was instituted by Oba Esigie in the early 16th century as a reward for his mother's support to ascend the throne and to win an important battle, thereby averting a threat to the kingdom. The Iyoba had her own court, however smaller than the Oba’s, and she had chiefs and other courtiers. In her palace in Uselu she carried out ceremonies and activities which were seen as a part of the cultural life of the Kingdom, as a necessary balancing activity to that of the monarch.

Enotie Paul Ogbebor