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Photo: Paul Macapia

Belt mask of Iyoba (Mother of the Oba) Idia

ca. 1517 - 1550


Benin Kingdom

"Iyoba Idia's visage is the most widely known face of an African royal woman after the Egyptian Queen, Nefertiti." (Nkiru Nzegwu, 2005)

Queen Idia's face conveys the considerable determination and allure that has inspired centuries of respect for her role as an astute leader of the Benin kingdom. 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 sixteenth century. All four were worn each year in a ceremony by a succession of Obas up until 1897, when a British military force confiscated them from the Oba's bedroom in the palace and brought them back to Europe.

Ivory, 4 3/4 x 9 3/16 in. (12 x 23.3cm), Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.493,

Provenance: Collection of Dr. Allman, 1897; Collection of Katherine C. White, Cleveland and Seattle, 1960-1981 (her death); gift of Mrs. White and purchase (funds from the Boeing Company) by Seattle Art Museum, 1981

Now on view at Seattle Art Museum

Photo: Paul Macapia