The Early Modern World, C. 1300–1600

African Art

What is the Queen Mother pendant mask?

The Queen Mother pendant mask likely represents Idia, the mother of Oba Esigie, who ruled Benin between 1504 and 1550. Nearly ten inches tall, it is made of carved ivory and was meant to be worn at the hip. The face of Idia is skillfully carved in a highly naturalistic style, with powerful eyes and stylized hair. Along the top and bottom of the mask are carved images of Portuguese soldiers, with whom Benin had an amicable trade relationship. The solider images alternate with images of the mudfish, which was symbolic of wealth, creativity, and the sea. A second, nearly identical, pendant mask was also carved from the same piece of ivory. One is in the British Museum while the other is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.


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