Commemorative Portrait Head (Primary Title)

Unknown (Artist)

16th–18th century
Terracotta with traces of polychrome
Overall: 12 × 8 × 5 1/2 in. (30.48 × 20.32 × 13.97 cm)
When a member of an Akan royal family dies, a woman fashions a memorial head or statue in terracotta. These portraits are created to house the eternal spirit of the deceased, thereby maintaining the continuity of a kingdom’s soul. During memorial rites the image is carried in a public procession, set on an altar, and finally placed in a mausoleum or in a sacred grove.

Slightly less than life-size, this beautiful head is naturalistically modeled and has a serene face; its elaborate hairdo probably imitates the hairstyle of the person commemorated. Minor damage and weathering of the surface from years of exposure do not detract from its radiant, noble bearing.
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Fund
The 17th Century: Gateway to the Modern World," Jamestown Settlement Museum, November 16, 2012 - August 15, 2012.

"Spirit of the Motherland." Roanoke: Museum of Western Virginia. September 1995- January 1996. Newport News: Peninsula Fine Arts Center. January- May 1996.
Bindman, David, Suzanne Preston. Blier, and Henry Louis. Gates. The Image of the Black in African and Asian Art. Cambridge: Belknap, 2017. (fig. 15, color illus, p. 30)

Barriault, Anne B., and Kay M. Davidson. Selections from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Richmond, VA: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2007. (pp 2-3)

"Cultural Crossroads: A New Look at African Art." American Legacy: The Magazine of African-American History and Culture. Summer 2002. (p.17-20)

Woodward, Richard B. African Art: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Richmond, Virginia: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2000. (p. 8-9)

Richard B. Woodward, African Art (Richmond, VA: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 1994) pp. 8-9, ill.

Anne Barriault, Selections Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (Richmond: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 1997) p. 37, ill. (color).

Image released via Creative Commons CC-BY-NC

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