Cover image for African royal court art
African royal court art
Coquet, Michèle.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Arts de cour en Afrique noire. English
Publication Information:
Chicago, Ill. : University of Chicago Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
xi, 181 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 29 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
N7391.65 .C66613 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize

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In this visually stunning work, anthropologist Michèle Coquet presents the power and the brilliance of African court arts. Grounding her analysis in the social and historical context of traditional royalty systems, Coquet examines the diverse roles played by artisans, nobles, and kings in the production and use of royal objects. From the precolonial kingdoms of the Edo and the Yoruba, the Ashanti and the Igbo, Coquet reconstructs from a comparativist view the essential cultural connections between art, representation, and the king.

More than ornamentation, royal objects embodied the strength and status of African rulers. The gold-plated stools of the Ashanti, the delicately carved ivory bracelets of the Edo-these objects were meant not simply to adorn but to affirm and enhance the power and prestige of the wearer. Unlike the abstract style frequently seen in African ritual art, realism became manifest in courtly arts. Realism directly linked the symbolic value of the object-a portrait or relief-with the physical person of the king. The contours of the monarch's face, his political and military exploits rendered on palace walls, became visual histories, the work of art in essence corroborating the ruler's sovereign might.

Richly illustrated and wonderfully detailed, Coquet's influential volume offers both a splendid visual presentation and an authoritative analysis of African royal arts.

"[This] beautiful and exciting book emphasizes the skillful court art of the Benin, Dahomey, and the Kongo. A very interesting and unusual approach to the art of the continent that has been too easily situated 'outside of history.'"-- Le Figaro

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

French anthropologist Coquet explains the social and historical contexts of the arts of Africa's major kingship systems. Her text begins with an explanation of the hierarchical political systems of primarily West and Central Africa. Subsequent chapters focus on the role of "portraits," how art functions to record history, the use of objects to symbolize social position, and archaeological evidence of past kingdoms and empires. The text is accompanied by field and object photographs as well as useful maps. While Coquet's book is an admirable scholarly effort, Suzanne Blier's recent The Royal Arts of Africa: The Majesty of Form (LJ 5/15/98) offers more incisive analyses of the manifold roles of royal art and provides a more diverse range of examples in words and illustrations. Nevertheless, Coquet's volume is recommended for libraries with an interest in art or African studies.‘Eugene C. Burt, Art Inst. of Seattle Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

With an anthropologist's vision of the whole, Coquet richly describes the most intricate details of the ancient kingdoms of West Africa: Il-Ife, Benin, Yoruba, Dahomey, Ashanti, Mali, and others. Coquet demonstrates how African artifacts and sculptures of tribal royalty were fashioned by ancient traditions and over time present, in effect, a visual history of the principles and essential values of the great monarchies--remnants still prevailing in various tribal cultures across the continent. Chapter 3, "History Told in Images," traces several visual traditions of stylistic and decorative forms that function in tribal societies as visual "monuments" to carry forth remembrances of monarchical events and values in the same way that oral history does. The conception of African sculptures and designs serving as visual documentary evidence of events and meanings in cultural histories is not new; the perpetuation of the monarchy is actually achieved through the repetition and preservation of cultural remembrances by what Coquet defines as a symbolic narrative representation in much figurative sculpture, decorative patterns, and surface embellishments. In addition to the evocative power of the extensive content and illustrative materials, this exquisitely bound volume offers rich visual enhancement appropriate to the solemnity of the royal court art in West African ancient kingdoms. General readers; undergraduates through professionals. J. L. Leahy Marygrove College

Table of Contents

1 Empires, Kingdoms, and Chieftaincies: The King's Singularity
2 A Few Conceptions of the Portrait
3 History Told in Images
4 Insignia of Sovereignty and Court Objects
5 Elements of Archaeology and History Map of Empires, Kingdoms, and Cities Map of Ethnic Groups Cited
Photographic Credits