Benin bronze and ivory hip masks
a comparison of style

This page is for educational purposes only.
I do not have any Benin hip masks in my collection.
Hip masks
Masks such as this were worn by certain high ranking officials or chiefs in Benin
over a tie on the costume at the left hip. The beard shows the typical border of
stylized mudfish represent prosperity, peace, well-being and fertility (Ben Amos,
1976: 245). The mudfish are also one of the symbols relating to the Oba or
chief in Benin iconography. For related examples see Pitt-Rivers, (1900: figures
86-87) and Von Luschan, (1919: 375-376).
A Benin hip mask of a human face thinly cast, and modelled in high relief, the face encircled by a
beard composed of numerous stylized mudfish and a row of loops for suspension, the face with
full protruding lips, a wide nose and prominent eyes inset with metal, and wearing a reticulated
headdress composed of numerous cast coral beads; fine varied aged patina. height 7 1/4 in.
Museum of African Art, The Language of African Art, 24 May-7 September 1970
Washington, D. C., The Language of African Art, Museum of African Art, 1970: number 293
Benin bronze hip mask of a leopard face
18th Century
The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco
Leon A. Salinger Bequest Fund, 76.8
Benin hip mask cast in the form of a ram's head, with four loops on the reverse for attachment, the
snout encircled by a fan composed of ridges terminating in nine stylized pendant mudfish, and the
head with wideset oval eyes framing the snout inset with a strip of copper beneath ornately cast
horns and lanceolate ears, a row of bells pendant below; fine aged patina. height 8 1/2 in.

Julius Carlebach, New York
Jack Passer, New York

Washington, D. C., The Language of African Art, Museum for African Art guest exhibtion at the
Smithsonian Institution, 24 May-7 September 1970

Museum for African Art, The Language of African, Washington, D.C., 1970: number 292
The University of Iowa Museum, The Stanley Collection

(see detail on this one below)
Title: Benin Kingdom people, Nigeria, mask (Stanley:572)
Group: Benin Kingdom
Number: 572
Country: Nigeria
Type: mask
Material: brass
Size: h 7.25"
Artist Region: Edo
Traditional Name: uhunmwun
Function: governance
Function Detail: royal regalia
Style: Guinea Coast
Substyle: Eastern Guinea Coast

Catalogue entry: This face pendant was created for the court of the Kingdom of Benin, a highly centralized state
founded in the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries in southwestern Nigeria , ruled by a divine king, or Oba, with a
complex pyramidal bureaucracy of Palace Chiefs, Town Chiefs, minor palace officials, chiefly retainers, and
members of the guilds that included craftsmen who produced sculpture in wood, ivory, and brass, embroidered
cloths, and other court regalia. The Portugese visited Benin in the 1470's, and Duarte Pacheco Pereira
described the state: "The Kingdom of Beny [Benin] is about eighty leagues long and forty wide; it is usually at
war with its neighbors and takes many captives, whom we buy at twelve or fifteen brasses bracelets each, or for
copper bracelets which they prize more" (Ben Amos 1980:6,7). In 1897 a British expeditionary force attacked
Benin, looted the palace, and burned it. Although the members of the brass casters' guild (Igun Eronmwon)
continue to cast royal and chiefly regalia today, most of the objects from Benin in collections outside of Nigeria,
including this piece, date from the long period before the British attack. This "mask" was worn by chiefs of all
ranks as a pendant attached to the bunched cloth of the wrapper on the left hip as part of ceremonial attire. "In
form it is related to the brass pendant masks sent to vassal rulers...and the ivory pendant mask worn by the
Oba (Ben Amos 1980:75 and 1984). The head is represented wearing crown made largely of pink fire-coral
beads. The decorative pattern beneath the chin represents a row of mud fish, some cast in brass as part of the
whole head, and alternate fish cast in a different alloy of copper to create a color contrast when the object was
polished. The strip down the nose is made of copper and the pupils of the eyes were made separately of iron
set into the wax model before casting, again to create a color contrast.
Musuem credit: The Stanley Collection of African Art at The University of Iowa Museum of Art
Photo credit: photo by Ecco Hart
From "The Tribal Arts of Africa"
Jean-Babtist Bacquart

6 3/4"
From the American Museum of Natural History
Gary Schulze's mask that was posted
on the African Antiques photo board
click on image above to see high resolution version
A few ivory ones which I like much better than the bronze ones...
Pendant Mask: Iyoba, 16th century
Nigeria; Edo peoples, court of Benin
Ivory, iron, copper (?); H. 9 3/8 in.
(23.8 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial
Collection, Gift of Nelson A.
Rockefeller, 1972 (1978.412.323)
Benin, Queen Mother (Iyoba) c1550  
Hip Mask 9" ivory, iron, copper
Publications and books that are good
reference sources for the art of Benin
There are 2 issues of the African Arts publications that are almost entirely dedicated to the Benin
culture and the articles are amazing (although I haven't read them all) but I have both copies.

Click on the blue link to go to the back issue page of African Arts to order these volumes.

Vol. 30, Issue 3 - Summer 1997  

feature articles Studies of Benin Art and Material Culture, 1897-1997
Joseph Nevadomsky

The Great Benin Centenary - Benin City, February 17-23, 1997 Opening Ceremony Address
Thorold Masefield

Opening Ceremony Address
Oba Erediauwa

The Dialectics of Definitions:"Massacre" and "Sack" in the History of the Punitive Expedition
Ekpo Eyo

Aesthetics and Evolution
Elazar Barkan

Praise Songs to Oba Ovonramwen

Early Images from Benin at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution
Christraud M. Geary

Casting Identities in Contemporary Benin City
Charles Gore

Felix von Luschan and Early German-Language Benin Studies
Stefan Eisenhofer

Continuity and Change
Barbara W. Blackmun


first word The Great Benin Centenary
Joseph Nevadomsky

books The Art of Benin by Paula Girshick Ben-Amos
Reviewed by Kathy Curnow
Museums and the Community of West Africa Edited by Claude Daniel Ardouin and Emmanuel Arinze
Reviewed by Gilbert Amegatcher

recent exhibitions Great Benin
Reviewed by Susan Picton
African Galleries: Reinstallations of the Permanent Collection
Reviewed by Marie-Thérèse Brincard

Vol. 30, Issue 4 - Autumn 1997  
The Benin Centenary, Part 2 Edo Art, Dynastic Myth, and Intellectual Aporia
John Picton

Images of Benin at the Pitt Rivers Museum
Jeremy Coote and Elizabeth Edwards

Remembering R. E. Bradbury
Charles Gore; Interview by Peter Morton-Williams

The Art of Fasting
Kathy Curnow

Contemporary Art and Artists in Benin City
Joseph Nevadomsky

Susan Mullin Vogel

first word Why? Notes from Asia
Michael Harris

books The Kingdom of Benin in West Africa by Heather Millar
Reviewed by Dan Ben-Amos
Benin Kingdom of West Africa by John Peffer-Engels
Edo: The Bini People of the Benin Kingdom by Chukwuma Azuonye
Reviewed by Joseph Nevadomsky
Höfische Elfenbeinschnitzerei im Reich Benin: Kontinuität oder Kontinuitätspostulät by Stefan
Reviewed by Barbara W. Blackmun
Lamidi Olonade Fakeye: A Retrospective Exhibition and Autobiography by Lamidi Olonade Fakeye
and Bruce M. Haight
Reviewed by Jean M. Borgatti
The Culture and Technology of African Iron Production Edited by Peter R. Schmidt<
Reviewed by P. L. Shinnie
click image to see larger version
Top photo: Interior of a shop filled with contemporary brasscastings. Brasscasters
quarter, Igun Street, Benin City, 1995. Photo: Joseph Nevadomsky.

Bottom photo: Copying from art books, artists from Igun Street create and artificially
patinate reproductions of pre-1897 objects. Benin City, 1995.
Photo: JosephNevadomsky.

CLICK HERE to go to an article called: Art and science in Benin bronzes
African Arts,  Spring, 2004  by Joseph Nevadomsky
It's an interesting article on the "issues" of Benin bronze objects