Cap mask

image for Cap mask
Object Name
Label Text
Gelede is a masquerade to honor and placate the "mothers," incarnate forces of thwarted fertility and spiritual power who are less diplomatically referred to as witches. Although men, appearing in pairs, dance these masks, many gelede masks depict women. Some are satiric or genre characters such as the prostitute or the Islamic northerner. Others have elaborate superstructures with figures of devotees, animals, exaggerated head ties (a woman's head covering) or even palm trees. The headdress on this mask is apparently unique; it most probably refers to a particular deity or the deity's devotee. Although the sections rising from the head have some stylistic affinities with the relief carving of divination boards, a reference to Ifa, the god of fate and order, is unlikely. Similarities can also be found with the designs on the textile panels of some gelede mask costumes.
Gelede masks are worn like caps and tilted at a 45-degree angle on the forehead. The sculptor takes this angle into account when carving the mask.
This mask is one of four identified as being by the same individual, an unidentified artist from a far western Yoruba group, the Anago of Benin. The attribution is now formalized as the Anago Master. The distinctive arrangement and size of the features are consistent with characteristics of this master, as are the flat-topped, rectangular ear, the profile of the eyelids and the precise triangular chip carving.
This beautiful mask is masterfully carved and retains much of its traditional polychrome decoration. Exemplifying a particular workshop and artist, the mask is distinctly local but also clearly Yoruba in a panregional sense. It offers possibilities for iconographic research and references to other Yoruba deities and related object types.
Wood cap mask representing a person with an elaborate headdress of alternating rectangular panels, and openwork circles. Panels either have rows of triangles or an "8" motif. The mask has a distinctive variant C-form ear, chip carved hair across the forehead and sideburns and three scarification marks on cheeks and forehead. Remains of yellow pigment are visible on the face.
Pace Primitive, New York, 1982
Drs. Daniel and Marian Malcolm, New York, -- to 1997
Entwistle, London, 1997
Exhibition History
Heroes: Principles of African Greatness, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 16, 2019–October 3, 2021
Black Womanhood: Images, Icons, and Ideologies of the African Body, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth, New Hampshire, April 1-August 10, 2008, Davis Museum, Wellesley College, September 17-December 14, 2008, San Diego Museum of Art, January 31-April 26, 2009
Playful Performers, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., April 9-December 12, 2004
Master Hand: Individuality and Creativity Among Yoruba Sculptors, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, September 11, 1997-August 1, 1998
Published References
Cunningham, Lawrence. 2006. Culture and Values: A Survey of the Humanities. Belmont, CA : Thomson/Wadsworth, pp. 542, 552, no. 20.9.
Fagg, William Buller and John Pemberton III. 1982. Yoruba: Sculpture of West Africa. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, no. 29.
Fagg, William and John Pemberton III. 1982. Yoruba Sculpture of West Africa. New York: Pace Editions, pp. 110-111, no. 29.
National Museum of African Art. 1999. Selected Works from the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 76, no. 48.
Thompson, Barbara. 2008. Black Womanhood: Images, Icons, and Ideologies of the African Body. Hanover: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College with Seattle: University of Washington Press, no. 2.
Credit Line
Museum purchase
See more items in
National Museum of African Art Collection
Heroes: Principles of African Greatness
On View
NMAfA, First Level North Galleries (1130-1134)
19th century
Object number
Anago Master
Yoruba artist
Male use
Anago or Ifonyin region, Benin
Wood, pigment
H x W x D: 21.5 x 25.0 x 27.8 cm (8 7/16 x 9 13/16 x 10 15/16 in.)
National Museum of African Art