Ife Bronze Heads – 20 Things You Should Know
The Ife Bronze heads have been well known to the art history world since their discovery in 1939.
As well as Leo Frobenius ludicrous Lost Atlantis claim, some European historians had previously further identified the features of some of the heads as aquiline and belonging to the Fulani race, suggesting that a white Fulani group dominated Ife at the time.
Some of the heads display a Negroid type. Others have aquiline profiles of Hamitic type suggesting they represent the Fulani rulers of Ife. Still others might pass for Europeans or even Mongolians, owing to the conventions of the eyes suggestive of the Mongolian fold – William Fagg (1960)
So desperate was the desire of European historians ( and some early Yoruba historians eager to please them ) to accredit some form of “whiteness” with the creation of the stunning Ife bronze sculptures at the time.
However leading Western historians have come to accept after much disbelief and research that the bronze artifacts found on Yorubaland were indeed made by the Yoruba of the 11th – 14th Century CE.
A range of evidence indicates that it was Ife’s indigenous artists that created these works, using local individuals as models – Suzanne Preston Blier, Art and Risk in Ancient Yoruba:Ife History, Power, and Identity , c1300 (2015)
Here are some other facts you should know:
1) None of them is actually bronze
2) The Ife bronze heads and the Obalufon mask are copper alloys
3) Four of the Ife heads, and the Obalufon mask are nearly pure copper a most difficult metal to manipulate .Producing these casts made of almost pure copper was “a feat that artists of Ancient Greece and Rome, the Italian Renaissance , and Chinese bronze casters never achieved”- Suzanne Preston Blier
4) All of the heads and the Obalufon mask ( 19 altogether) were made using the Lost Wax technique
5) The heads depict historic individuals and heroes of Ife, spiritual home of the Yoruba
6) 16 of the heads including the Obalufon mask are life size
7) All 3 of the crowned heads are 3/4 of life size
8) Fact 7 above disproves the theory that the heads were cast in death from the actual heads of a dead king/dead kings. Exemplary sculpting skill was used to craft the naturalistic features of the heads.
9) The find was announced in the UK on the 8th of April 1939
10) Leo Frobenius made the first find in Wunmonije compound Ile-Ife in 1910
11) The first crowned head found by Leo Frobenius has disappeared mysteriously ie been stolen
12) 8 of the life size heads have facial scarification
13) 7 of the life size heads and the Obalufon mask of them do not
14) Some historians think that due to the similarities in looks of the heads , and the closeness in dates of the copper alloy scultpures, that they were made most likely within one generation of Lost Wax technique casters, under the reign of Obalufon II
15) Only one descendant of the traditional brass casters remains alive in Yoruba land today
16) The source of the metals used has not been ascertained. Some historians believe that the metals used were imported and some believe that the heads were made from local ores
17) The metal heads contain a high level of arsenic, it’s not known why
18) Some Ife traditions say members of the generation of casters that produced the Ife heads may have been executed by an Ooni in anger.
19) And some historians say members of the Ife head casters may have died from arsenic poisoning as a result of working with high levels of arsenic.
20) Of the 3 crowned heads, one is housed in the British Museum, and the other in Ife Museum. The third is “lost”.
Bonus Fact: Its very difficult to find royalty free images of all 19 Ife bronzes.