Lot 189
  • 189

Head representing a ruler, Udo Kingdom, Nigeria, ca. 15th - 16th century

100,000 - 150,000 USD
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  • bronze
  • Height: 9 inches (22.9 cm)


William O. Oldman, London
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, acquired from the above in the summer of 1912 (inv. no. "AF2063")
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, Catalogue of a collection of African Art to be sold at auction for the benefit of A Proposed Expedition To Africa By The University Museum in the ballroom of the Barclay Thursday afternoon April Sixteenth: 4 o'clock", April 16, 1936, lot 38 (withdrawn from the auction and sold directly to the below)
Mr. Carroll S. Tyson, Jr. (1878-1956), Philadelphia, acquired from the above
Mrs. Carroll S. Tyson, Philadelphia, by descent from her husband
Helen Tyson Madeira (1916-2014), Gladwyne, Pa., by descent from her mother


University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, The Art of Great Benin, December 1912
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, permanent exhibition, 1920s
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, Ancient and Primitive Art in Philadelphia Collections, May - September, 1959


Author unknown, "[... centu]ries ago now on display in the University Museum", Philadelphia Record, December 1, 1912
H.U. Hall, "Examples of African Art", The Museum Journal, Vol. X, No. 3, The University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia, September 1919, p. 100, fig. 39
David Crownover, "Ancient and Primitive Art in Philadelphia Collections", Expedition, Vol. 1, Issue 4, Summer 1959, p. 20, fig. 7
Carol E. Kleckner, "The Appeal of Primitive Art: Functional as Well as Beautiful", The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 21, 1959, p. 5


Excellent condition for an object of this great age and exceedingly rare type. Rectangular aperture at back of the head as is typical of Udo commemorative heads. Minor marks, nicks, scratches, abrasions, and very minor casting flaws. Inlaid secondary metal elements in eyes with corrosion. Exceptionally fine aged patina with oxidation, verdigris, and reddish encrustation; high points rubbed with glossy dark patina.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Head Representing a Ruler, Udo Kingdom, Nigeria, ca. 15th - 16th Century

By Heinrich Schweizer

Udo, located some 80 kilometers (50 miles) to the northwest of Benin City, was once a powerful city-state and rival of Benin. According to oral traditions supported by archaeological evidence, the competition between the two powers goes as far back as the 13th century. Igbafe (in Plankensteiner 2007: 46) notes: “A notable achievement of Oba Ogula [ca. 1280] was the digging of trenches, the first Benin moat around the city in order to stave off attacks from his enemies, the most powerful of whom was the brave Akpanigiakon, ruler of Udo, across the Ovia River west of Benin City.” The struggle between both states lasted for centuries and was decided in favor of Benin in the early 16th century when Oba Esigie totally defeated Udo’s rulers Arhuanran and his son in a series of battles (Igbafe in Plankensteiner 2007: 47).

Whether Udo adopted the tradition of brass casting from Benin or vice versa is hotly debated. Kit W. Wesler (1998: 175) notes: “Talbot (1926 [I]: 153) cites traditions that ‘the first king of the country [Benin] was Igudu, who lived at Udo.’ Emokpae (1973) echoed this idea but it was politically unacceptable and many recent Bini historians 'relocate' Idogo closer to Benin (Eboho 1972; Egharevba 1968). Similar collation of Bini histories reveals some claims that Benin conquered Udo in the predynastic Ogiso era and during the reigns of Oba Oguola, Oba Ewuare, Oba Ozolua, and Oba Esigie (Bradbury n.d.; Egharevba 1968; Igbafe 1974; Talbot 1926). However, these claims are internally inconsistent; and all conquests before that in 1517 defy logic by implying that Benin was able to defeat the powerful Udo kingdom before it could conquer villages closer to hand. Further study of the traditions reveals an enigmatic dichotomy. Some maintain that Udo captured its bronzecasters from Benin, while others claim that Benin’s bronzecasters came from Ife via Udo (Dark 1962). ‘Whatever there is in Benin is also in Udo,’ is a Bini saying claiming that Udo was built as a replica of Benin (Ben-Amos 1980; Bradbury n.d.); whereas Udo claims that it originated from Ife, and that Itebite, Benin’s founder, once paid tribute to Udo (Darling 1984)! […]”

Typologically Udo brass sculptures like the offered lot are closely related to Benin brass Oba heads of Type 1 (Dark 1975: 32-33), and correspond to these heads also in terms of size, weight, chemical composition of the copper alloy used and quality of the cast. Most recent metallurgical research suggests consistently that Udo heads are at least as old as the oldest Benin heads, dating to the 15th or 16th century (see Junge in Plankensteiner 2007: 185-197; Blackmun in Plankensteiner 2007: 445-446, text to cat. 224).

The number of Udo brass heads is small, especially when compared to that of brass heads from Benin City. While von Luschan (1919: 358) counted only seven Udo heads, identifying them as representations of “very jung, not yet adult girls”, Fagg (in Christie’s, London, July 14, 1976, lot 65) “about a dozen” and Dark (in McCall and Bay 1975: 45) “fourteen, possibly fifteen”, the number of heads in the Udo style is in fact at least sixteen, and includes:

One in the in the British Museum, London (inv. no. “Wellcome 50.266-A”, Forman, Forman and Dark 1960: pls. 75-76; Fagg 1963: pl. 56);

a second in the Nigerian National Museum, Lagos (NCMM inv. no. “54.2.7”, acquired at Sotheby’s, London, July 5, 1954, lot 77; Eyo 1977: 103; Dark in McCall and Bay 1975: 87 lists this head as G9/69, and assigns number O6/69 to a purported other head in the Benin Museum of which apparently a photograph could not be obtained at the time of publication, resulting in Dark’s tentative number of “fourteen, possibly fifteen” Udo heads stated on p. 45 of the same publication, and still today it is unclear whether this head actually exists or is a duplication of the Lagos museum head);

a third and a fourth in the Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preussischer Kulturbesitz (inv. nos. “III.C.7651” and “III.C.8234”, apparently later renumbered to “III.C.12508” and “III.C.12509”, Luschan 1919: Tafeln 57-58; Junge in Plankensteiner 2007: 187, 189, 191, 193 and 194);

a fifth in the Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde, Dresden (inv. no. “26228”, Hahner-Herzog 1999: 34, pl. 6);

a sixth in the Museum für Völkerkunde, Leipzig (inv. no. “M.Af.29815”, Drost 1966: pl. 10);

a seventh in the Museum für Völkerkunde, Hamburg (inv. no. “C.4042”, Hagen 1917: 20, fig. 4);

an eighth in the Museum der Weltkulturen, Frankfurt (previously Museum für Völkerkunde, inv. no. “1157”, Rachewiltz 1959: pl. 14);

a ninth  in the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago (inv. no. “Fuller R. 4/9”, Dark 1962: 126);

a tenth in the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh (inv. no. “1903.334”, Dark 1973: pl. 24, ills. 49-51);

an eleventh in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge University, Cambridge (inv. no. “50.266B”);

a twelfth previously in the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Farnham, Dorset, current whereabouts unknown (Pitt Rivers 1900: pl. 24, figs. 149-150; Sotheby’s, London, November 15, 1965, lot 137);

a thirteenth, reportedly previously in the collection of H. Schnackenberg, current whereabouts unknown (Sweeney 1941: no. 5; Dark in McCall and Bay 1975: 86);

a fourteenth in a private collection, previously James T. Hooper, Arundel (Christie's, London, African Art from the James Hooper Collection, July 14, 1976, Lot 65, illustrated on the front cover; Sotheby’s, London, July 3, 1989, lot 95);

a fifteenth previously in the Schwarz Collection, Amsterdam (Sotheby’s, London, Catalogue of Works of Art from Benin. The Property of a European Private Collector, June 16, 1980, lot 9; Elisofon and Fagg 1958: 126-127, pls. 158-159; Bastin 1984: 36, fig. 18);

and a sixteenth, the present lot.

Although previously published four times, first in 1912, then in 1919 and again twice in 1959, the offered lot remained unknown to the leading scholars on the subject of Benin and Udo brass sculpture, including William B. Fagg and Philipp J. Dark, and consequently is not mentioned in any of their numerous publications, especially not in Dark's attempt of a catalogue raisonné of "Udo-Style Heads (Type 6)" (Dark in McCall and Bay 1975: 86-87). As Dark also omitted the head from the Hamburg museum, the above list of sixteen heads represents a new catalogue raisonné.

It is plausible to explain the small number of Udo brass heads and their stylistic cohesiveness with a short period of manufacture. In light of their presumed 15th - 16th century date of manufacture based on metallurgical testing (see above), the end of production would most likely have coincided with Udo's final defeat and subjugation to Benin in 1517: “To consolidate his hold on the town, Oba Esigie abolished the post of Chief of Udo and appointed his own Iyase to oversee the town as his representative and loyal subject” (Igbafe in Plankensteiner 2007: 47). If there was indeed a practice in Udo similar to that in Benin that involved the veneration of brass heads of past rulers on special altars, it would certainly have made sense to discontinue it at that moment.

At the time of its first publication the offered lot was in the collection of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, who had acquired it from London-based dealer William Oldman in 1912. It was deaccessioned by the museum in 1936 and acquired by the painter Carroll Sargent Tyson, Jr.  (1878-1956) in whose family it remained until the present day. Carroll S. Tyson had studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA), participated in almost every annual exhibition at the PAFA from 1905 through 1954 and had solo exhibitions in New York at the Durand-Ruel Gallery in 1927 and the Wildenstein Gallery (1936 and 1946). A passionate admirer of Paul Cézanne, he was co-organizer of a landmark exhibition of European avant-garde artists in the 1920s at the PAFA, which helped introduce artists such as Cézanne, Gauguin, Picasso and Matisse to the American public. An early collector of African sculpture he is known as a lender to African Negro Art at MoMA, New York, in 1935.

Acknowledgements and cordial thanks to Dwaune Latimer, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.