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Art Through the Ages Volume I. Early African Art. African Art. Philosophy: Art was created and conserved to honor the ancestors in preparation of the afterlife. Ancestor worship and nature deities Art was used for rituals Hunters and gatherers society

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Art Through the Ages Volume I

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Art Through the AgesVolume I

Early African Art

African Art

  • Philosophy: Art was created and conserved to honor the ancestors in preparation of the afterlife.

  • Ancestor worship and nature deities

  • Art was used for rituals

  • Hunters and gatherers society

  • Art differed according to a regions economy, lifestyle, ideology, and materials available to them.

  • Works were made from terracotta, ivory, cast metal

  • Art was used for trade


The Earliest Art In Africa

  • The worlds earliest art was discovered in Africa

  • Rock engraving was one of the earliest mediums used in Africa.

  • Rock art was concentrated in the dry desert regions

  • There was a rich record of environment, human activities, and animal species

Characteristics of Nok Art (Central Sudan)

  • Pierced eyes, mouth and ear holes.

  • Clay sculptures

  • Ritual context

Nok Head, 500 B.C.- 200 A.D.

  • Rafin Kura, Nigeria

  • Terracotta

  • 1’ 2 3/16”

Heads of Lydenburg (South Africa), 6th – 8th century

  • Nearly life size terracotta heads discovered outside of Lydenburg

  • Heads were reconstructed from fragments of Terracotta

  • Scarification on forehead, temples, and between eyes

Early Iron Age Earthenware Head, Lydenburg, 500-600 A.D.

  • 210 mm

  • Radiocarbon date to about 500 to 600 A.D.

  • One of the seven Lydenburg heads

Equestrain Figure on Fly-Whisk Hilt, Igbo Ukwu, 9th – 10th Century

  • Copper-alloy bronze

  • 6 3/16” high

  • A bronze-casting tradition developed in West African during the 9th and 10th century.

  • Facial stripes (scarification) on the figure represents marks of status

  • Oldest metal castings known from regions south of the Sahara

King, Ile Ife, 11th -12th century

  • Zinc-brass alloy

  • Represents a figure head

  • Contains precise detailed patterning

  • Idealized naturalism

  • Ife is considered the cradle of Yoruba culture and civilization

  • Figures served in rituals supporting divine kingship

Ivory Belt Mask of a Queen Mother, Benin Art, mid-16th Century

  • Ivory and Iron

  • 9 3/8” high

  • Royalty commissioned metal pieces and ivory carvings

  • Art was given as royal favors to title holders or other chiefs.

  • This mask was worn by a king at his waist.

Bracelets: Crocodile Heads, Benin Art, 17th -19th century

  • 17th-19th Century

  • African art is often functional

  • African women wear all the jewelry the own at the same time, not just for ceremonies and festivals.

Oba Supported by Attendants, Benin Art, 1500-1897 A.D.

  • Oba is the belief of the ability to accomplish great things

  • work depicts a king with a human torso but with legs formed by mudfish

  • The king needs the help of his two attendants to stand.

Great Zimbabwe (Southern Africa)

  • Great Zimbabwe is also known as “Africa’s Stonehenge”

  • Zimbabwe means Stone Enclosure in Shona

  • Complex Stone Structures

  • Zimbabwe was prosperous trade center, with a wide trade network

  • Soapstone birds, ancestor worship

Walls and tower, Great Enclosure, Great Zimbabwe,14th Century

  • Stone

  • Eliptical Stone walls, used no mortar

  • Unusual for their size and excellence in stone work

  • Small pieces of stone were cut for decorative edging or insets

Bird with Crocodile image on top of stone monolith, Great Zimbabwe, 15th Century

  • Soapstone,

  • Bird is interpreted as symbolizing the first wife of the rulers ancestors

Sapi Art (West Atlantic Coast)

  • Carved stone, wood and ivory objects, such as utensils, saltcellars, boxes, hunting horns, and knife handles.

  • Objects were made to export to Europe

  • Details on figures were characteristically European.

  • Large heads, flaring nostrils

Master of the Symbolic Execution, saltcellar, Sapi-Portuguese, 15th and 16th Century

  • Ivory, 15th-t16th century

  • Kneeling figure on top holds an ax and a shield and prepares to behead the slouched figure.

  • Circular platform is held up by slender rods adorned by crocodile images

Beta Medhane Alem church, Lalibela, Ethiopia, 14th century

  • Largest rock-cut church

  • Work had to be visualized before work could begin

Inland Niger Delta Art(Western Sudan)

  • Subject matter includes:


    Male and female couples

    emaciated & diseased people

    snake entwined figures

Equestrian figure, Inland Niger Delta, 13th- 15th century

  • Terracotta

  • 28”

  • Since the 1940s, low-fired ceramic figures and fragments have been unearthed at various sites in the Inland Niger Delta region.

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