Lot: 252

Head of a Queen Mother "uhunmwun eloo", 19th century

Nigeria, Benin Kingdom

Provenance Size Hammer price
Rudolf Mosse (1843-1920), Berlin, Germany
Hans Lachmann-Mosse, Berlin, Germany / Oakland, USA
Rudolph Lepke's Kunst-Auctions-Haus, Berlin, 29 May 1934, Kat.Nr.178
H. Benninghaus, Oberhausen, Germany
Galerie Bassenge, Berlin, 3 - 7 May 1966, lot 2248
Gerda Bassenge, Berlin, Germany
Family Collection Bassenge, Berlin, Germany
H: 21.5 inch 38000 EUR

bronze, cast in lost-wax method ("cire perdue"), high cylindrical bead collar, coral-bead crown with a high forward-pointing peak ("ede iyoba"), sixteen beaded strings, six gender marks "ikharo", flanged base with ropework pattern, small hole in the head (according to Luschan due to the cast/according to other sources for insertion of a small tusk), minor missing parts in the cast. In earlier times it was customary to have the queen, who had just given birth to the future "oba", "disappear", after the crowning of her son. She should not give birth to any more (male) children in order to avoid potential conflicts over the succession to the throne. Oba Esigie, however, put an end to this tradition at his coronation in the early 16th century. He built a palace for his mother Idia in the village of Uselu (now a district of Benin City), assigned villages to her care and gave her many privileges as well as symbols of power and status. Out of gratitude, Idia built up her own army and successfully supported her son in a conflict against the Igala. She was the only woman who was said to have "gone to war". In the following years, each further queen mother was awarded the title "iyoba" and assigned a separate domain. The "iyoba" was the only woman to occupy one of the highest offices in Benin and was equal to the highest city titleholder in the political hierarchy. After the death of a queen mother, a bronze head was commissioned by the "oba" and placed in the palace on an ancestral altar dedicated to the "iyoba". As a symbol of their official function, the queen mother was portrayed similarly to senior male dignitaries with insignia of coral beads. A head of the same type is pictured in the standard work from 1919 (vol. III, plate 62 right head) by Felix von Luschan about the antiquities of Benin. As proven in 2012 by Schlothauer, the head originally comes from the Benin collection of the Museum of Ethnology in Berlin and was acquired in 1898 (by Consul Schmidt). Another head of this type is shown in Duchateau (p. 52, cat. 27) and is from the G. Haas collection in 1899. The commemorative head being offered here is, due to the less realistic, more schematic representation of the facial features and the slightly thicker cast also attributed to this later style of commemorative heads. Born the son of Jewish parents, Rudolf Mosse (1843-1920) built a newspaper empire with a good hand and sensitivity, one of whose economically successful publications the “Berliner Tageblatt” was part of. As early as 1882 he was so wealthy that he had a city palace built in the centre of Berlin, at Leipziger Platz 15, which provided the ideal setting for the building of his representative art collection. His collection contained not only contemporary German paintings (Adolf Menzel, Lovis Corinth, Karl Spitzweg, Wilhelm Leibl, Arnold Böcklin) but also paintings of ancient masters, Egyptian antiquities and Benin bronzes. In addition to the commemorative head of a queen mother "uhunmwun eloo" offered here, nine bronze relief plates and the commemorative head of an oba are documented. R. Mosse was one of the first art collectors who, together with the art critic Fritz Stahl (1864-1928), at least on occasion used a consultant for his purchases. Felix von Luschan and Hans Meyer Mosse were well known to him. If Stahl was the consultant for paintings, he could have helped him buy African art objects. Luschan (1854-1924) was director of the Ethnological Museum in Berlin from 1905 to 1910. Hans Meyer (1858-1929) put together a significant collection of 53 Benin objects, which went to the Ethnological Museum in Leipzig between 1900 and 1919 and is now one of the largest treasures of the house. With the start of the First World War R. Mosse seems to have completed his collecting activity. He died on 8 September 1920. His son-in-law, Hans Lachmann-Mosse, who took over the leadership of the Mosse group after his death, was more interested in music and architecture in the artistic field. He seems to have added no new pieces to the collection; however, he held the collection of his father-in-law in high esteem. Already during the hyperinflation of 1922/23 a part of the company assets were lost. From 1926 the publishing house got into serious financial difficulties and had to declare bankruptcy in the autumn of 1932. Shortly after the seizure of power by Hitler on January 30, 1933, the National Socialists destroyed the ailing company empire. Hans Lachmann-Mosse had to emigrate to France in April 1933 and watch from there, as the "Rudolf Mosse-Treuhandverwaltung" set up by the National Socialists for his father-in-law's art collection be auctioned off on 29 and 30 May 1934 at the Rudolph Lepke's auction house in Berlin. »The provenance research, with the result that the Benin head originates from the former Benin collection of Rudolf Mosse (1843-1920), was possible with the help of the photo database “Benin Objects in Europe”, which has been run by Audrey Peraldi and Andreas Schlothauer since 2014. The project is funded by the Research Centre for Material Culture gGmbH, Berlin.« To meet our responsibilities and documentation requirements we would like to state thr following: „The seller cannot be made liable for any future claims of restitution as the sale is legal according to German law. The sale of this object is therefore exempt from any direct or indirect guarantees or claims for damages and or return of the object.“

Thermoluminescence expertise No. 01 R090218, 11 February 2018, Ralf Kotalla, Haigerloch, Germany (175 years +/- 20-35 %)
Luschan, Felix von, Alterthümer von Benin, Textband, p. 351 und Band III, Tafel 62, Berlin/Leipzig 1919 Duchateau, Armand, Benin, Paris 1990, p. 52, ill. 39 Schlothauer, Andreas, Gefunden - Drei Beninköpfe ehemals Berlin, In: Kunst und Kontext 03 (2012),
Rudolph Lepke's Kunst-Auctions-Haus, Berlin, 29. Mai 1934, Tafel 21, Kat.Nr.178