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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 - 1550

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, Dec. 19, 1960; bequeathed to Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington, 1981
Photo: Paul Macapia
Now on view at the Seattle Art Museum


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). No cat. no., reproduced pl. 141 (as Belt Mask).

Los Angeles, California, African Art In Motion: Icon and Act, Frederick S. Wight Art Gallery, University of California, Los Angeles, Jan. 20 - Mar. 17, 1974 (Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Apr. 21 - Aug. 30, 1974).

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 fig. 3, p. 142.

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.

Selected Works, Seattle, Washington: Seattle Art Museum, 1991; p. 35.

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 p. 56, 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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