Search:   Go  Parent records only   Compare Images
 
Parent Record
No. 585.10
image
Download: small | large
Publication: 1915. Woermann, Karl. Geschichte der Kunst aller Zeiten und Völker. Zweiter Band: Die Kunst der Naturvölker und der übrigen nichtchristlichen Kulturvölker, einschlieblich der Kunst des Islams, Vol. 2.

Original language: German

Caption translation:

Bronze head of the ocean god Olokun. After photograph by Frobenius



Caption:

Bronzekopf des Meergottes Olokun. Nach Photographie von Frobenius



Text translation:

“Entirely new questions about the pre-history of Africa have recently been raised by Frobenius in that he believes to have found one of the ruin sites of Plato’s island Atlantis in western Sudan, in the hot backlands of Lagos and Benin, an island that must have had a high and unique culture. At any rate, the findings he has made, the remnants of an ancient, long sunken wonderworld, however it may have been named, must have had a blooming prehistoric art and culture of an age not yet determinable, but which certainly must have bloomed at the time of or before Greece’s bloom. There is hardly space for this to have happened at a later time. […] The sculptural works that Frobenius dug out of holy groves here and brought back home are the most important. Here we have stone heads, bronze heads, and especially terracotta heads that do not at all look like Negro heads despite their enlarged lips, but are rather curiously noble, straight-nosed, high-forehead types that are artistically modeled completely throughout with an amazing sensitivity in all details. No one would think of today’s Negro art in relation to these creations. The three stone heads from the Ossa region show, according to the photography, some protruding foreheads, some receding, under artful headdresses. There are almond shaped eyes with bulging lids. The wonderful prehistoric bronze head of the sea god Olokun decorated with a high coronet, which was photographed but had to stay there ..., shows a softer language of form than for example the Greek bronze heads from 600 B.C. that are of a completely different type. But the same language of form as this bronze head is revealed in the beautiful, under life-sized terracotta heads that were shown in Berlin (fig. 53)*. The vertical parallel grooves that cover both the bronze heads and the terracotta heads are unconvincingly explained as tattooing. Other digs will provide further conclusions.” (p. 55) * [Ed. note: See RAAI #585.02]



Text:

„Ganz neue, weitgreifende Fragen zur Vorgeschichte Afrikas hat neuerdings Frobenius aufgeworfen, indem er, worauf schon hingedeutet worden, im westlichen Sudan, im heißen Hinterlande von Lagos und Benin, eine der Trümmerstätten jener Insel Atlantis Platos wieder aufgefunden zu haben glaubt, die eine hohe und eigenartige Kultur gehabt haben muß. Jedenfalls sind die Funde, die er hier gemacht, die Überreste einer uralten, längst versunkenen Wunderwelt, wie immer sie geheißen haben mag, einer vorgeschichtlichen Kunst- und Kulturwelt, deren Alter sich noch nicht genau berechnen läßt, die aber sicher noch oder schon zur Blütezeit Griechenlands geblüht haben muß. In einer späteren Zeit ist kaum Raum für sie. […] Am wichtigsten sind die plastischen Bildwerke, die Frobenius hier in heiligen Hainen ausgegraben und zum Teil mit heimgebracht hat. Es handelt sich um Steinköpfe, Bronzeköpfe und namentlich Terrakottaköpfe, die trotz ihrer aufgeworfenen Lippen durchaus nicht negerhaft dreinblicken, sondern einen eigenartig edlen, geradnasigen, hochstirnigen Typus verraten und mit erstaunlicher Feinfühligkeit in allen Einzelheiten künstlerisch durchmodelliert sind. Kein Mensch wird diesen Schöpfungen gegenüber an die heutige Negerkunst denken. Die drei Steinköpfe des Ossagebietes zeigen, nach den Photographien zu schließen, teils vorspringende, teils zurückweichende Stirnen unter kunstvollen Haartrachten und mandelförmige Augen mit wulstigen Rändern. Der herrliche, mit hohem Diadem geschmückte vorgeschichtliche Bronzekopf des Meeresgottes Olokun, der drüben blieb, aber photographiert werden konnte ..., zeigt eine weichere Formensprache als z.B. die griechischen Bronzeköpfe des 6. Jahrhunderts v. Chr., deren Typus übrigens völlig verschieden ist. Die gleiche Formensprache wie dieser Bronzekopf aber verraten die unterlebensgroßen schönen Terrakottaköpfe, deren Originale in Berlin ausgestellt waren (Abb. 53)*. Die senkrechten Parallelrillen, die den Bronzekopf und die Terrakottaköpfe überziehen, werden, nicht völlig überzeugend, als Tätowierungen erklärt. Weitere Grabungen werden weitere Aufschlüsse geben.“ [Transcribed from German Fraktur] (p. 55) * [Ed. note: See RAAI #585.02]



Illustrator: Leo Frobenius
Illustration technique: b/w studio photograph

Publication page: 54

Publication plate/figure: fig 52

Related images: For views of Ife head of Olokun published between 1913 & 1919, see: #s 252, 253, 585.10, 881.3, 912.4, 949.3, 1094.1, 1249.1.

Keywords:
• Ife (Country, region, place)
• Nigeria (Country, region, place)
• cast (Materials and techniques)
• bronze (Materials and techniques)
• lost-wax (Materials and techniques)
• head ornament (Notable features)
• naturalism (Notable features)
• profile (Notable features)
• vertical grooves (Notable features)
• Olokun (Object name, type)
• portrait-head (Object name, type)
• Yoruba (Style, culture group)

Collections:
• Berlin Museum für Völkerkunde as of 1929. (Collection at time of publication)
• National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria, 38.1.2. [An older RAAI entry said that the head is in the National Museum, Lagos on loan from the Ife Museum. Copy in British Museum, London, reg. no. Af1939,34.1]. (Current collection)

Comments:
Jim Ross, (4/24/2006): The story of Frobenius' attempt to acquire this head is set forth on pp10-11 of Ekpo Eyo's introduction to the 1980 book "Treasures of Ancient Nigeria" by Ekpo Eyo and Frank Willlett. A photo of this head on p11 bears the following caption: "Figure 6 The copy of the Ife bronze head said to represent Olokun, god of sea and wealth. It is on loan to the National Museum, Lagos, from the museum at Ife; the whereabouts of the original are unknown."

Jim Ross, (3/16/2010):

For a discussion of this head, "probably an early 20th century copy of the original from the 14th century-early 15th century", see pp26-7 of "Dynasty and Divinity Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria" (2009) by Henry John Drewal & Enid Schildkrought which says inter alia that it probably represents an Ooni and has nothing to do with Olokun, goddess of the sea and patroness of bead making. See similar head (presumably not the "original" referred to above) which is now in the British Museum collection, reg no. Af1939.34.1 (given by the Art Fund) & appears in fig 11 on p22 of Nigel Barley's 2009 British Museum publication "The Art of Benin." The British Museum website says that "this free-standing brass head cast in the lost wax technique was discovered in 1938 at Wunmonije Compound in Ife, Nigeria. It was found by accident during house building works together with sixteen other brass and copper heads and the upper half of a brass figure.

The identification and function of the head, in common with the others discovered at this site, remain uncertain. Its elaborate beaded headdress, possibly representing a crown, suggest that it was associated with an Ooni, a ruler of Ife."



Jim Ross, (8/28/2011):

See a profile view of a similar head, without the vertical object rising from the head and with large beading in the coiffure, in ill. 93 on p166 of Art of Africa (1993) by Jacques Kerchache, et al  with the following caption on p173: "Crowned Head from Ife, Nigeria. Copper and zinc. 12th-15th century. Height: 24 cm. Museum of the Ife Antiquities, Nigeria." A front view appears on p52 of the Musee Dapper publication Le Grand Heritage (1992 from 1989 Italian ed.) edited by Ezio Bassani. It appears also on pp240-242 of the 2011 publication Chefs-d'oeuvre de L'Art Africain, Paris, Editions Place des Victoires in the collection of the Musée du quai Branly (Paris). It appears also in fig. 1.7 on pp56-7 in Ezio Bassani's Africa - capolavori da un continente (2003) where it's identified as in the collection of "Garky-Abuja, Museum of Ife Antiquities, inv. n. 19 Ife (79R.11)."



Jim Ross, (9/20/2011):

This head appears in fig 45 on p54 of Alisa LaGamma's Heroic Africans (2011) & is discussed by her on pp52-3. In footnote 46 on p274, LaGamma states that conservators have determined that this head is "a modern copy made by sand casting." She adds that "Frank Willett has suggested that Carl Arriens, an artist who accompanied Frobenius on the 1910 expedition, made the copy from a cast of the original....Research into the authenticity of the head is ongoing."



Jim Ross, (3/23/2012): • A photograph in the British Museum of a head appears under reg. no. Af,CB31.4 on the British Museum website (www.britishmuseum.org) with the following annotation: "Copied from an original lent to us West Africa. no other info" [manuscript on back]."  It's clear that the vertical extension on the "original" (also seen in a color photograph in Lagamma's Heroic Africans  which is the subject of the RAAI comment of 9/20/11 ) is quite different from the extension on the British Museum head which one can view on the British Museum website under reg. no. Af1939,34.1. The damage on the the British Museum head is another obvious distinction. Of course, as I understand it, the claim isn't that the British Museum head was an exact copy of the Nigerian Museum head but merely that the latter was used as a model for the early 20th century manufacture of the former.
• A color photograph of the British Museum head appears in Kunst in Afrika by Albert Theile (1961) 277, Afb. 197 and in Dynasty and Divinity Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria by Henry John Drewal and Enid Schildkrout (2009) 11, fig 4 with the following caption: Crowned head, Wunmonije Compound, Ife, Nigeria, 12th-14th century C.E., copper alloy, H: 13-1/4 in. (35 cm) / British Museum, Af1939,34.1."
• A photograph of the head in the British Museum appears in The Arts of Africa by René S. Wassing (1970) 161, Pl. 86.
• Appears also in African Art by Michel Leiris and Jacqueline Delange (1968) 100, ill. 98.
• Appears also in Classical African Sculpture by Margaret Trowell (1970-3rd rev'd ed) pl. XXII.
• Appears also in Bronzes of West Africa by Leon Underwood (1968 2nd rev'd ed.) pl. 1 with the following descriptive note on p33: "Ife Head. Slightly under life size. British Museum. Called Olokun on account of its resemblance to the so-called Olokun head discovered at Ife in 1910. One of the two Ife heads in America is of this type."
• Appears also in The Sculpture of Africa by Eliot Elisofon & William Fagg (1958) 123, ill. 155. In its caption we're told that "bands of red paint are present on the crown."
• Appears on p150 in pl.I, fig. B in an article entitled "Bronzes and Terra-Cottas from Ile-Ife" by H. and V. Meyerowitz in the London periodical The Burlington Magazine, October 1939, Vol. lxxv, No. CDXXXIX, 150-5 with the following caption: "Head of Olokun. Bronze. Height, about 30.5 cm."
• Appears in Plate I facing p72 in an article entitled "Nigerian Bronzes: work from Ife" by K. C. Murray in the Gloucester periodical Antiquity - A Quarterly Review of Archaeology, March 1941, Vol. XV, No. 57, 71-80 with the following caption: "Bronze Found At Ife, Nigeria, Representing Olokun, the Sea Goddess, Mother Of Obalufon I, The Second Oni, Or King Of Ife."
• Appears in a color photograph in Africa. Arts and Cultures edited by John Mack (2000) 100, fig 24 in a section by Nigel Barley with the following caption: "Leaded brass, pigment. Yoruba, Ife, Nigeria. 12th-15th centuries. Ht. 35 cm, W. 12.5 cm, Dp. 15 cm. Given by the National Art Collections Fund. Ethno 1939, AF34.1" 
•  Appears in a color photograph in Les Arts d'Afrique by Alain-Michel Boyer (2007 nouvelle éd.) 101.
• Appears in Ancient African Kingdoms by Margaret Shinnie (1965) 80.
• Appears in African Royal Court Art by Michèle Coquet (1998) 32, fig 17. 
• Appears in a color photograph in The African Kings. Treasures of the World by Mary Cable and the Editors of Tree Communications, Inc. (1983) 42. On p43, it's described as a "superb reproduction."
• Appears also as the frontispiece in The British Museum Quarterly, Vol. XIV. No. 4 (1940) in a section entitled "Bronze Head From Ifé, Nigeria" by H. J. Braunholtz on pp75-77.
 

Jim Ross, (6/10/2012):

For a discussion of all 20 known bronze Ife heads, see 6/10/12 comment in #252.



Jim Ross, (9/19/2012):

This profile view appears in L'Art chez les peuples primitifs, Adolphe Basler, 1929. Planche 15 with the following entry in the Table Des Plances: "Tete en cire perdue du dieu de la mer Olukun (Ife. Yoruba). (Premiere millenaire av. J.-C.) Cf. L. Frobenius, "Das unbekannte Afrika". - Musee ethnographiqe de Berlin. - Haut: 155 mm."



Jim Ross, (4/15/2013):

A color photograph of a frontal view of this head appears in Nigel Barley's British Museum publication The Art of Benin (2010) 22, fig. 11 with the following caption: "On this head, found at Ife, traces of red  pigment can still be seen on the 'crown'. Holes have been pierced around the mouth, probably for the attachment of a beaded beard. It is likely that this was a funerary image and may have been attached to a wooden 'body' by a hole made in the neck. Head of an Oni (ruler). Yoruba people, Ife, Nigeria. Cast brass, 12th-15th century. H. 35 cm, W. 12.5 cm, D. 15 cm." Subsequent to this publication, it has been determined that this is a modern copy of an object now in Nigeria. See 09/20/11 comment.



Jim Ross, (7/10/2013):  A view of a head turned 45 degrees to the viewer's right which closely resembles the subject head appears on p319, fig 6 in an article entitled "L'arte misteriosa e sorprendente di Ife" by Teobaldo Filesi in the Firenze periodical L'Universo, Marzo-Aprile 1960, Anno XL, N. 2, 315-28 with the following caption: "Testa in ottone che raffigura la dea Olokun o un antico Oni." (NB the image in #252 is closer to the one in L'Universo than is #585.10).

Jim Ross, (2/11/2014):

A photograph of this object by the German photographer Herbert List (1903-1975) originally appearing in "Nigerian Images" by Fagg & List appears in lot 2752 on p197 in the 30 Nov.-1 Dezember 1994 auction of "Kunst. Bucher und Dokumentation" at Munich auction house of Dietrich Schneider-Henn. I assume this is the British Museum copy referred to in 9/20/11 comment.



Jim Ross, (3/26/2014):

 Appears in Old Africa Rediscovered by Basil Davidson (1959) facing 96, fig 9b.



Jim Ross, (10/12/2014):

 Appears in The University Prints, Series N, Section 1 entitled African Art by [Paul S.] Wingert (1976) N 54 with the following caption: "Head from Wunmonije. 'Olokun'. Bronze, 14-1/4". British Museum, London."



Jim Ross, (6/24/2015): A full-page color photograph of a similar Ife head appears in Mexico 68 - The Cultural Olympiad Produced by the Organizing Comittee of the Games of the XIX Olympiad (1969) 110 with the following caption on p111: "Head, possibly of Olokun, goddess of the sea and protector of wealth. Lost-wax casting in brass. Height: 36.5 cm. Classical period, probably 12th to fourteenth centuries A.D. From Ife, western Nigeria. Nigerian Museum of Antiquities, Lagos. It is though that the work may also represent one of the early Oni (kings) of Ife."

Jim Ross, (10/31/2015): This head appears in a full-page b/w photograph in Iskusstvo narodov Afriji - ocerki chudozestvennoj kul'tury s drevnosti do nastojascego vremeni [an English translation  of the title is "Art of the peoples of Africa"] by Boris V. Vejmarn, S.A. Kaufman, et al in a chapter by G. A. (Galina Aleksamdrovna) Chernova (1975) facing 160, ill. 201.