X65.9129 Altar tusk

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Object Name: Altar tusk

Artist: Unknown, 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


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.