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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Belt mask of Iyoba (Mother of the Oba) Idia

Photo: Paul Macapia

Belt mask of Iyoba (Mother of the Oba) Idia

ca. 1517-50

Queen Idia’s face conveys her considerable courage and allure that has inspired centuries of respect. This icon was one of four created in her honor by her son, Oba Esigie, who led the kingdom to the height of its prosperity in the 16th century. It was worn in a ceremony each year by a succession of Obas, up until 1897. At that time, a British force took them from the Oba's bedroom in the palace and brought them back to Europe.
4 3/4 x 9 3/16 in. (12 x 23.3cm)
Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company
Provenance: Taken from a box in the Oba’s bedroom in the royal palace of Benin City by Dr. Robert Allman, Principal Medical Officer for the British Punitive Expedition, Feb. 16, 1897; [Sotheby's, London, Important African Sculpture, South American & Oceanic Art, Monday, June 27, 1960, lot no. 120, reproduced]; purchased at auction by K.J. Hewett (1919-1994), London, England; John Wise (1902-1981), New York; sold to Katherine White (1929-1980), Seattle, Washington, 1960; bequeathed to Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington, 1981
Photo: Paul Macapia
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistoryKansas City, Missouri, The Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum, The Imagination of Primitive Man, 1962.

Cleveland, Ohio, Cleveland Museum of Art, African Tribal Images: The Katherine White Reswick Collection, July 10 - Sept. 1, 1968 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, University of Pennsylvania Museum, Oct. 10 - Dec. 1, 1968). Text by William Fagg. Cat. no. 141 (as Belt Mask).

Los Angeles, California, Frederick S. Wight Art Gallery, University of California, African Art in Motion: Icon and Act, Jan. 20 - Mar. 17, 1974 (Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, May 5 - Sept. 22, 1974). Text by Robert Farris Thompson. No cat. no., pp. 128-9, reproduced pl. 163 (as belt mask).

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Praise Poems: The Katherine White Collection, July 29 - Sept. 29, 1984 (Washington, D.C., National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Oct. 31, 1984 - Feb. 25, 1985; Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art, Apr. 6 - May 19, 1985; Fort Worth, Texas, Kimbell Art Museum, Sept. 7 - Nov. 25, 1985; Kansas City, Missouri, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Mar. 8 - Apr. 20, 1986). Text by Pamela McClusky.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, African Panoplies: Art for Rulers, Traders, Hunters, and Priests, Apr. 21 - Aug. 14, 1988.

Chicago, Illinois, Art Institute of Chicago, Benin–Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria, July 8 - Sept. 21, 2008. Reproduced p. 142, fig. 3.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Lessons from the Institute of Empathy, Mar. 31, 2018 - ongoing [on view Mar. 31, 2018 - June 13, 2021].

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Benin Art: Collecting Concerns, Sept. 15, 2021 - ongoing.
Published ReferencesImportant African Sculpture, South American, Haida and Oceanic Art, June 27, 1960, Sotheby's (London, 1960): p. 32, lot no. 120, reproduced frontispiece (color) and folding plate, n.p.

Mathes, Charles. Treasures of American Museums, New York: Mallard Press, 1991; p. 3.

McClusky, Pamela. "Art of Africa." In Selected Works, pp. 35-52. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 1991; p. 35, reproduced (as Belt Mask).

Kaplan, Flora Edouwaye S. "Images of the Queen Mother in Benin Court Art." African Arts, vol. 26, no. 3 (July 1993): pp. 54-63, 86-88, reproduced fig. 1.

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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