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4 / Ceremony and Society

Royal Crown (adènlà)
Royal Crown (adènlà)
Artist / Origin Yoruba artist, Nigeria
Region: Africa
Date 20th century
Material Glass beads, fiber, cloth, and thread
Medium: Other
Dimensions 54 1/2 in x 8 x 8 in (including beaded veil)
Location Newark Museum, Newark, NJ
Credit Courtesy of the Newark Museum

expert perspective

Mary Nooter RobertsProfessor of Culture and Performance, University of California, Los Angeles
Babatunde LawalProfessor of Art History, Virginia Commonwealth University
Christa ClarkeSenior Curator of Arts of Africa and the Americas, Newark Museum

Additional Resources

“African Beaded Art: Power and Adornment.” In Exhibitions. Smith College Museum of Art Web site. http://www.smith.edu/artmuseum2/archived_exhibitions/africanbeadedart/index.htm.

Drewal, Henry John. “Yoruba Beadwork in Africa.” African Arts 31.1 (Winter 1998): 18–27, 94.

Lawal, Babatunde. “Àwòrán: Representing the Self and Its Metaphysical Other in Yoruba Art.” Art Bulletin 83.3 (September 2001): 498–526.

Lawal, Babatunde, Christa Clarke, and Carol Thompson. Embodying the Sacred in Yoruba Art, Featuring The Bernard and Patricia Wagner Collection. Exhibition catalogue organized and co-published by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and The Newark Museum, New Jersey, 2007.

“Embodying the Sacred in Yoruba Art.” In Featured Exhibitions. Newark Museum Web site. http://www.newarkmuseum.org.

Royal Crown (adènlà)

» Yoruba artist, Nigeria

Headdresses like this one are among the most important items comprising ceremonial royal regalia among the Yoruba.

A large ethnic group residing primarily in southwest Nigeria, Benin, and Togo, the Yoruba believe that an oba, or ruler, is invested with earthly status and spiritual power. Ornate, beaded crowns such as this suggest both aspects of the oba’s identity as well as his ability to mediate between the worlds of the seen (aye) and the unseen (orun).

The materials, iconography, and form of the crown, or adènlà, all work together to communicate the privileged position and inherent authority of the wearer. In Yoruba culture, beads are prized objects, believed to help seal in spiritual forces. Thus, wrapping the physical head—the container of a person’s “inner head,” seat of their áse or “essence”—in a beaded crown serves to intensify that individual’s spiritual energy. Because of their mediatory properties—their ability to refract and reflect light—beads are considered especially appropriate decorations for figures such as rulers, diviners, and herbalists, who are themselves able to channel spirits and manipulate the forces of the cosmos. Similar meaning is conveyed through the bird at the top of the conical crown seen here, which is also a symbol of control over supernatural forces.

Color and patterns communicate further information about the crown’s wearer. Blue beads dominate the decorative scheme of this particular crown. Rare and expensive, these beads are associated with coolness and darkness—references to temperature, but also temperament. A cool disposition is highly valued among the Yoruba and associated with certain incarnations of divinity. The interlacing of patterns created by the colored beads symbolizes the chain of divine ancestors and suggests the continuity of life, while the round faces on the headpiece’s exterior are to be understood as those of royal ancestors, including Odùduwà, the legendary founder of the Yoruba kingdom. These visages also give a face to the king, whose own features are obscured by the crown’s beaded veil. This veil is meant to focus attention on the office of the oba, rather than on his individual person, and to protect onlookers from the supernatural powers radiating from the semi-divine ruler.

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