Nigeria, Benin kingdom
Altar of the Hand, 17th century
10 1/2 × 11 in. (26.7 × 27.9 cm.)
Museum purchase, Preston Pope Satterwhite Fund 1970.14
A Sign of Success
Altars of the hand celebrate a person’s accomplishments in life and success achieved through one’s own efforts. This sculpture, encircled with royal attendants playing musical instruments, was probably created for the Queen Mother, who held an important role in Benin politics and society. By protecting the health and welfare of the king, the Queen Mother indirectly ensured the prosperity of the kingdom. Her unique status granted her rights normally reserved for high-ranking men, including a bevy of attendants, a palace, and the right to own bronze objects such as this.