The so-called bronze of Benin is actually an alloy closer to a brass using a technique of lost-wax casting developed before any contact with Europeans. It is divided into two very different styles of works, the plaques that commemorate events or dignitaries and the heads in the round of the Oba kings. It is helpful to study these two categories together to establish the chronology of this art.
The heads are not portraits but ideal figurations of the previous Oba kings of the reigning dynasty. These figures are dedicated to devotion as altarpieces.
Philip Dark describes five overlapping phases along with more detailed groups. The 24 cm high Oba head sold on May 17, 2007 by Sotheby's for $ 4.7M including premium over a lower estimate of $ 1M is a Type 3 Group 2A created between 1575 and 1625 CE.
On December 12 in Paris, Sotheby's sells a Type 4 head of Oba 32 cm high, lot 67 estimated € 600K. Compared to the head of the previous sale, power symbols and mystic symbols appear in high relief on the headdress and on the base added for that purpose.
The cylindrical collar that rises up to the lips is composed of 33 rings of metal pearls compared to the 22 rings of the other head, explaining the difference in total height and probably attributing a higher importance of this Type 4 king.
SOLD for € 1.87M including premium