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X65.9129 Altar tusk


Artist: Unidentified, probably commissioned by Oba Osemwende

Culture: Edo peoples

Place of Origin: Kingdom of Benin, present-day Nigeria

Date/Era: Early 19th century

Medium/Materials: Ivory

Dimensions: H: 180 cm, DIAM: 12.1 cm

Credit Line: Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Wellcome Trust.

Accession Number: X65.9129


  • 1897: Looted from Benin
  • 1931 (July 16): Sold at Mess. Foster’s Auction [lot 97], listed under series of lots formerly belonging “the Property of a Gentleman who was a member of the Benin expedition” to Sir Henry WellcomeCollection
  • 1965: Gift of the Wellcome Trust to Fowler Museum (then Museum and Laboratories of Ethnic Arts and Technology)

As early as the thirteenth century, carved ivory was a part of court life in the Kingdom of Benin in present-day Nigeria. The color of ivory suggests purity, prosperity, and peace. Although ivory had always been valued in Benin, its proliferation at the court accelerated as the kings grew wealthy from the ivory trade. The royal altar of the king would typically have incorporated four to twelve tusks, each carved to document the history of past wars and to commemorating great leaders.

Source: Gallery text, Intersections: World Arts, Local Lives, 2006.

See also: Marla C. Berns, World Arts, Local Lives: The Collections of the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Fowler Museum, Los Angeles, 2014.

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