The Bronze Head of Queen Idia is a commemorative bronze head from mediaeval Benin that probably represents Queen Idia, who was a powerful monarch during the early sixteenth century at the Benin court. Four cast bronze heads of the queen are known and are currently in the collections of the British Museum, the World Museum in Liverpool, the Nigerian National Museum in Lagos and the Ethnological Museum of Berlin.[1][2][3][4][5]

Bronze Head of Queen Idia
Size41 cm high
CreatedSixteenth century AD
Present locationBritish Museum, London
IdentificationAOA 1897.10-11.1


The bronze head was made using the lost wax casting technique in the early sixteenth century. It is a very realistic representation of a young woman from the Benin court, who wears a high pointed ukpe-okhue crown of lattice-shaped red coral beads. The eyes and two bands between them are inset with iron. Above each eyebrow are engraved four cicatrices. The sophisticated technique and design of the four heads suggest that they were made in the early sixteenth century, when Queen Idia, mother of Oba Esigie, ruled the Benin court.


The different head in Berlin

Many Benin works of art entered the European art market after the Benin Expedition of 1897. The British Museum head was presented to the museum by Sir William Ingram in 1897.

Original UseEdit

Queen Idia played an instrumental role in her son's successful military campaigns against neighbouring tribes and factions. After her death, Oba Esigie ordered dedicatory heads of the queen to be made, to be placed in front of altars or in the Queen Mother's palace. The heads were designed to honour her military achievements and ceremonial power.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ British Museum Highlights
  2. ^ British Museum Collection
  3. ^ "World Museum Website". Archived from the original on 2016-08-18. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  4. ^ Ethnological Museum Website Archived February 2, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Picture of Lagos head Archived February 2, 2014, at the Wayback Machine

Further readingEdit

  • Mack, John (ed.) Africa, Arts and Cultures. London, 2005.
  • Barley, Nigel. The Art of Benin. London: The British Museum Press, 2010.
  • Ben-Amos, P. Girshick. The Art of Benin. London: The British Museum Press, 1995.