Grounding its analysis in the social and historical context of traditional royalty systems, this text examines the diverse roles played by artisans, nobles, and kings in the production and use of royal objects. From the precolonial kingdoms of the Edo and the Yoruba, the Ashanti and the Igbo, Michele Coquet reconstructs from a comparativist view the essential cultural connections between art, representation and the king. More than ornamentation, royal objects embodied the strength and status of African rulers. The gold-plated stools of the Ashanti, the delicately carved ivory bracelets of the Edo - these objects were meant not simply to adorn but to affirm and enhance the power and prestige of the wearer. Unlike the abstract style frequently seen in African ritual art, realism became manifest in courtly arts. Realism directly linked the symbolic value of the object - a portrait or relief - with the physical person of the king. The contours of the monarch's face, his political and military exploits rendered on palace walls, became visual histories, the work of art in essence corroborating the ruler's sovereign might.
Introduction 1: Empires, Kingdoms, and Chieftaincies: The King's Singularity 2: A Few Conceptions of the Portrait 3: History Told in Images 4: Insignia of Sovereignty and Court Objects 5: Elements of Archaeology and History Map of Empires, Kingdoms, and Cities Map of Ethnic Groups Cited Notes Bibliography Photographic Credits Index