Between the 12th and 14th centuries, the royal city of Ife, in present-day Nigeria, was a center of economic, religious and political power, and its importance was reflected in a highly developed and distinctive sculptural style. Portrait heads modeled in terracotta or bronze stood on royal shrines in the palace compound. This head probably represents a woman of the royal court. The delicate lines on her face show a pattern of scarification, the cutting of designs into the skin to mark identity, status and beauty. The sensitive realism of this portrait is unusual among African art styles which typically present abstracted and generalized representations of the human image. Works of art from Ife are very rare. This superb creation is one of only three in American museum collections.


  • Title: Shrine Head
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: 1100/1399
  • origin: Nigeria
  • Physical Dimensions: w5.75 x h12.25 x d7.25 in
  • Measurements: 12 1/4 x 5 3/4 x 7 1/4 in. (31.1 x 14.6 x 18.4 cm)
  • Type: Sculpture
  • Rights: The John R. Van Derlip Fund, http://www.artsmia.org/index.php?section_id=7
  • External Link: Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Minneapolis, MN, USA)
  • Medium: Terracotta

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