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Bronze Sculpture

The bronze sculpture of West Africa serves as testimony to the profuse and highly developed artistic tradition evident in this part of the continent. This technically advanced and aesthetically refined form of expression has been and still is the preoccupation of art historians, anthropologists and artists.

The earliest findings of cast bronze artefacts were excavated in Igbo-Ukwu, Nigeria (9th century). The tradition of bronze casting in West Africa reached its peak during the great kingdoms of the 14th-19th century. The demanding cire perdue technique was used for the production of different objects by bronze casters who, in West Africa, formed special guilds and occupied an important position in society due to the ambivalent nature of their work – working with metal. Only the king had the authority to order the production of objects in bronze, control their distribution as well as the use of metal.

Ancestral alters of the king’s palace were a place furnished with commemorative sculptures which included busts and heads of kings. Sometimes the sculpted heads were used to hold long, intricately decorated ivory tusks. However, a variety of other objects also found their place on the altars: cast-brass bells were symbols of rank and the royal regalia also included bronze (brass and copper alloy) masks, rattle-staffs, pendant sculptures and sculptures of animals such as the rooster or mudfish.