Crown, Ade, 1900–1940
Yoruba peoples
Glass and jasper beads, cotton cloth, raffia cloth, cane, and iron
29 1/2 × 7 1/4 inches (74.9 × 18.4 cm)
Museum purchase funded by an anonymous donor in honor of Anthony and Andrew Cochran

Habits of Mind

  • SYNTHESIZE Analyze and synthesize relationships and information / compare and contrast / understand the micro and macro implications

Yoruba Crown

Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.

GRADE LEVEL

7

SUBJECT AREA

Art

Social Studies

HABITS OF MIND

Synthesize

Connecting to the Work of Art

Among the Yoruba, beading is a man’s profession, often passed down between generations within established compounds. The artist makes all beaded objects on commission and often lives in the house of the patron while completing the work.

 

The beaded crown is a sign of the divine authority of the king, or oba, and only those who can trace their ancestry back to the god Oduduwa, founder and first king of the Yoruba people, may wear it. The crown is a mask that conceals the identity of the monarch and connects him to past rulers. Individual crowns are often given names, such as “the crown which makes the land stable.” These names contribute to the prestige and power of the crown and the king.

 

This crown has the traditional cone shape, topped by a three-dimensional bird representing the mystical, spiritual forces of important older women. By wearing birds on his crown, the king appeals to them not to use their powers against him. The faces on two sides of the crown often represent Oduduwa and Olokun (god of the sea), the royal ancestors. The beaded veil hanging from the crown covers the king’s face, separating him from this world and protecting those who look at him from his powerful gaze. It is taboo for ordinary people to gaze directly at the king. Distinctive features of this crown are the fringe of beads at the top and the use of the design of interlacing lines, which appears on many sacred forms of Yoruba art.

 

The crown is constructed on a conical foundation of cane and iron covered with layers of cotton cloth and, in the case of this piece, raffia cloth. The outside layers are fastened and stiffened with a cornstarch paste and sun dried. A strip of red cloth is sewn around the lower edge and protects the wearer’s head. The faces, rendered in high relief, were modeled from bundled cloth and sewn on either before or after beading. The background patterns are usually stenciled or drawn freehand, although some skilled artists execute the design without preliminary markings. The three-dimensional bird, crafted from bundled cloth, was beaded before being attached to the top of the structure. The making of a crown is slow, tedious, and important work.

 

The Yoruba crowning tradition began when the great god and first king, Oduduwa, gave each of his sixteen sons a crown and sent them out to establish kingdoms. Today, as in the past, the creation and consecration of a crown are carried out with elaborate rituals. At the palace, the bead artist works in secret while preparing the crown. He offers prayers and gifts to the god of iron, patron of those who use iron needles to sew. The work of beading the crown can then begin. Before the new crown can be worn, a priest places a packet of powerful medicines inside the top of the crown, which is consecrated during the installation ceremony of the new king. When the chiefs kneel before the crowned ruler, they greet the crown and the new king with the words, “Your Highness! The king’s power is next to that of the gods!”

Conversation Starters

Observe

  • Look closely at the patterns and decoration of this Ade. Make an inventory of all the different types of decoration you can see (i.e. stripes, checkerboards, interlacing, color blocking…). Try to trace the path of one of the interlaced lines on the sides.
  • Now investigate the materials, imagining what it must have been like to be the artist making this Ade. How many beads do you have? Where do you get them? What other materials do you have? How do you affix the beads to the base? What is the base—do you make that as well? How?
  • Discuss and determine how this object interacts with the body. How would someone wear it? Where would it touch them? What would it cover? Can you connect that to anything that you normally wear?
  • Would you describe this object as simple or complex? What other words would you use to describe this object?
Interpret
  • What symbols or signals do you associate with a king or ruler? How do you know they are a king, just by looking at them?
  • This Ade is a crown, specifically commissioned for a Yoruba king. What symbols might show that the wearer is royalty? How?
  • Think again about the way this Ade is worn. The beads form a veil that cover the wearer’s body and face. Why might a king want to conceal his face?
  • How would you feel while wearing this crown?
  • Consider that Yoruba rulers source their power and authority from their ancestors, the gods Oduduwa and Olokun. How might that fact have influenced the design of this Ade?
  • Yoruba beaders are exclusive, respected artisans who take their craft very seriously and work on commission for powerful, important people. Why do you think they hold such a special place in society? Look at this Ade for inspiration.

Assessment

• Compare this object with the Helmet Mask with Equestrian Figure, from the Adeshina school, Yoruba (Ekiti subgroup), Nigeria, Efon-Alaye town.


The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.

The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.