A rare, newly re-discovered, 16th century ivory pendant mask from Benin will be sold at Sotheby's in February, in an auction should attract collectors from across the globe.
The mask, which depicts the head of the Queen mother from the Edo peoples of the Kingdom of Benin in Nigeria, is valued at £3.5m-4.5m and will be sold along with five other rare works from Benin collected at the same time.
They will be sold by the descendants of Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry Lionel Gallwey, who was appointed deputy commissioner and vice-consul in the newly established Oil Rivers Protectorate in 1891.
Ranked among the most iconic works of art to have been created in Africa, there are only four other historical ivory pendant masks with related iconography of this age known to exist.
These others are housed in major museums around the world and are widely recognised for the quality of their craftsmanship, the enormous scale of Benin's artistic achievement and for their importance in the field of African art.
Idia remains a celebrated figure in Benin, known as the 'only woman who went to war', and the mask was created as a subject of veneration. Its worn and honey-coloured surface attests to years of rubbing with palm oil, and the surface as well as the style of carving is most similar to the example in The Seattle Art Museum.
The other items included in the sale of all of equally high importance. They include a carved tusk made with a group of other similarly carved tusks for the altar of an 18th century Oba, two richly carved ivory armlets, a rare bronze armlet cast with Portuguese figures and a very rare bronze sculpture of a type historically identified as tusk stands.
The rarity and importance of these artefacts should mean the attention of both tribal art collectors and investors is firmly focused on the sale on February 17th. For it could be a literal once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own an object which is both a stunning work of art and an invaluable piece of history from Africa's rich cultural heritage.
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