The Art of Africa

Discover the diverse arts of Africa from select cultures and time periods on the world’s second largest continent.

Artist Unidentified, Relief plaque showing a dignitary with drum and two attendants striking gongs, c. 1530-1570, copper alloy (Robert Owen Lehman Collection, Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
The audience hall in the palace in Benin City communicated to visiting ambassadors, traders, courtiers, and subjects the power and wealth of the Oba, or king.

The Imagery of Power on Benin Bronze ...

The convention of elongating the figure can be seen in many of Olowe’s carvings, to visually highlight the importance of the head that holds the inner spiritual power, dignity and strength, and sacredness of one’s destiny.

Olowe of Ise, Veranda Post of Enthroned ...

Diptych with Mary and Her Son Flanked by Archangels, Apostles and a Saint, Ethiopia, 15th century, tempera on wood, left panel: 8 7/8 x 7 13/16 x 5/8 inches (The Walters Art Museum)
The earliest known Ethiopian icons have been dated to the fifteenth century and typically portray the Virgin and Child, the Apostles, and Saint George.

An Ethiopian icon

Detail of Oba, Benin plaque, MFA, Boston
How to impress your courtiers: a lesson from the Kingdom of Benin

Benin Plaques

This cloth—first woven by a wise spider—sends social messages through a system of specific patterns.

Kente cloth

Christian Ethiopian art
Ethiopia’s Christian heritage predates much of Europe’s, and includes churches hewn from living rock.

Christian Ethiopian art