Ancestral Altar Tusk

Ancestral Altar Tusk

c. 1820

Elephant ivory

Overall: 197.4 cm (77 11/16 in.)

Gift of Katherine C. White 1968.284

Description

Ọba Ọsẹmwẹdẹ commissioned the carving of this tusk to connect with his ancestors and symbolize his strength. It is covered with royal figures wearing elaborate regalia and scenes of power, ritual, and violence. While Benin royal symbols may look similar across centuries, their meanings can shift. Ọsẹmwẹdẹ’s reign was prosperous due to trade with the Dutch; however, 16th-century Portuguese men are carved on the lower tusk. By the 1800s they represented any European traders. This tusk’s surface likely became worn and cracked from frequent washing, bleaching, and the applying of a white clay (orhue) linked to peace, purity, and prosperity.

Video

Carved Tusk
See also
Collection: 
African Art
Department: 
African Art
Type of artwork: 
Sculpture

Contact us

The information about this object, including provenance information, is based on historic information and may not be currently accurate or complete. Research on objects is an ongoing process, but the information about this object may not reflect the most current information available to CMA. If you notice a mistake or have additional information about this object, please email collectionsdata@clevelandart.org.

To request more information about this object, study images, or bibliography, contact the Ingalls Library Reference Desk.

Is something not working on this page? Please email help.website@clevelandart.org.

Request a digital file from Image Services that is not available through CC0, a detail image, or any image with a color bar. If you have questions about requesting an image, please email imageservices@clevelandart.org.