Yoruba tribe, Head of a King, 13th century. Naturalistic, Abstract, or Symbolic? There are some very good details within the face and crown. The face has almond-shaped, cat-like eyes, the nose is broad and fleshy at the nostrils, the lips are soft, the overall shape of the skull seems accurate with a proper placement of cheekbones, eye sockets, and jaw line. The scarification is an appropriate tribal marking. The crown is detailed and probably closely resembles those actually worn 800 years ago. Abstract? It is hard to assess due to the fact that there are no photographs of the king represented. In the sculptural representation, he seems very young (20ís?) with perfectly symmetrical features. The oval head, perfect eye shapes and straight, cylindrical neck may be too perfect or geometric. While we donít know the reality of that king, we do have key information for our analysis. This king was one of the first to hire sculptors to create his image for the purpose of documenting history (so that people in the future could remember the great rulers of the past). Being new to the process of commissioning art, he hired twelve artists to independently sculpt twelve portraits.


He would pick the best. When completed, he observed that nine created portraits with disegno esterno and the last three used disegno interno. The king selected the examples of disegno interno, because he preferred portraits which made him look better than he actually did. Kings would ascend to the throne while middle-aged. Tribal elders were stout as a sign of their wealth and prosperity. Symbolic? The artist obviously chose not to include such details preferring to represent the king as a symbol of greatness and immortality, forever slim, wrinkle-free, with perfect facial features. When a king or ruler is portrayed, he is always depicted as more than the mortal individual which he was; he is depicted as a head-of-state, the symbol of the greatness of his nation - strong and immortal.