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Timelines of World Art: Africa

c. 1000–c. 1400

Massive stone walls are built in Great Zimbabwe, forming the largest ancient structure in sub-Saharan Africa. The biggest walls, some of which tower 11 metres tall, form the Great Enclosure. Read more...

c. 1000–c. 1500

Life-size portrait heads made of terracotta or bronze at Ife in Nigeria are strikingly naturalistic and are pierced with holes that may have allowed the attachment of crowns and facial hair. Read more...

1106–1142

Artistic interchanges between different parts of the Almoravid domain can be seen in the Qubbat al-Ba'diyyin, the surviving ablution centre of the primary mosque in Marrakesh. Ribbed domes and intersecting horseshoe arches from Andalusia are combined with local Moroccan architecture. Read more...

c. 1200–c. 1325

Twelve churches are cut from the living rock at Lalibela in Ethiopia. Their architecture is derived from wooden buildings, no longer extant, in the region. Read more...

c. 1200–c. 1500

Artisans in the inland Niger River delta fashion equestrian figures from ceramic, metal and wood to depict mythological figures and important political individuals. Read more...

c. 1275–c. 1325

Ife smiths cast in copper the half-life-size statue of a seated man known as the Tada figure. The figure's posture and proportions, as well as his animated facial expression, are exceptionally realistic. Read more...

1284–1285

Mamluk sultan Qala'un builds a grand complex in Cairo that includes a madrasa (school), hospital, mausoleum and minaret, and is part of a larger programme of public and private construction. Read more...

c. 1300–c. 1350

Illustrated copies of the Gospels are produced in Tigray province in Ethiopia that reveal the region's ties with the Byzantine Empire and close relationship with the Eastern Mediterranean. Read more...

c. 1300–c. 1400

The Dogon people of Mali carve some of the most accomplished and oldest surviving figural wooden statues in Africa. While most figures are stylized to some degree and emphasize geometric forms, sculptures of women often include children and thereby underscore their maternal role in society. Read more...

c. 1325

The Great Mosque is Timbuktu is built, probably at the order of King Mansa Musa, who had just returned after making a pilgrimage to Mecca. The building is reportedly designed by an Andalusian poet-architect al-Saheli. Read more...

c. 1375–c. 1600

During their 'Golden Age', the Swahili of East Africa build stone tombs for the wealthy that are highly unusual and distinctive. Read more...

c. 1376

Sultan Sha`ban II of Egypt commissions several large and sumptuously illuminated copies of the Koran that include double-page frontispieces, chapter headings and page margins richly decorated in gold, lapis lazuli and red. Read more...

c. 1500–c. 1600

Ivory-carvers of Sierra Leone are commissioned by Portuguese traders to fashion intricate salt-cellars that incorporate European and African forms and motifs. Read more...

c. 1500–c. 1600

Benin kings of the Edo people wear finely carved ivory pendants of revered deceased ancestors. While somewhat stylized, these carvings are portraits of specific individuals. Read more...

c. 1500–c. 1850

Upon his coronation, each king (oba) of Benin must commission within his first year of rule the production of a brass commemorative head of his father, the former king, to be placed on an altar. While not realistic portraits, these images are individualized and are meant to represent the actual person. Read more...


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