Yoruba Beaded Crown - Nigeria

Beaded crowns, or ade, are among the most dazzling objects in the art traditions of the Yoruba, and the most import element in a king’s regalia. Typically conical in form, they present a complex of visual metaphors brought to life in a vivid aggregation of images and patterns, embellished over their entire surface with glass beads. The broadest portion of the crown bears a multitude of faces that at points seem to fuse and flow into one another, embodying the unbroken ancestral line – part literal, part mythic – to which the king (oba) is heir. A long veil of beaded strands partly conceals the visage of the king, de-emphasizing his temporal materiality and protecting his subjects from his powerful gaze.

Examining this crown closely, one cannot help but marvel at the painstaking workmanship expended on its richly beaded exterior. Shades of delicate blue and tan intermingle with the predominant white, with bands and highlights of red, blue and yellow providing visual structure. Ranks of beads run in contrasting currents and buckle in fleshy undulations, creating a subtle sense of constant flux and motion in the crown’s surface.

Beyond mere decoration, beads are considered sacred to the Yoruba, and are worn only by individuals with sufficient power to bridge the worlds of the secular and the divine, namely priests and kings. This rare gift of otherworldly transition is signified by the bird, a symbol of the spirit world, attached at the apex of the crown. Birds are also associated with female power, in the aspects of both the mother and the sorceress, and the presence of an avian figure upon the crown suggests the commonly held wisdom that a king cannot rule without the cooperation and support of his community’s women.

Early 20th century
Glass beads, sinew, wood, fiber
31" h
Provenance: Michael Oliver, New York
#531
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