In 2012, the MFA gratefully accepted the Robert Owen Lehman Collection of 34 rare West African works of art. Thirty-two objects are from the Kingdom of Benin in present-day southern Nigeria and two are from present-day Guinea and Sierra Leone. Best known for its sophisticated artistry, the Benin Kingdom, whose inhabitants are Edo peoples, goes back to the late 12th century. Among the most famous works, created by artists in the service of the king, are ivories and so-called bronzes (copper alloy pieces made in the lost wax-casting technique). The bronzes range from sculptural heads of kings and freestanding figures, to pendants and high-relief plaques that once adorned the walls of courtyards in the palace. The new Benin Kingdom Gallery displays this magnificent gift. An interactive feature on the iconography of ancient bronzes from the Benin Kingdom provides gallery visitors with a new way to explore key motifs of Benin art. The touch-screen display provides a close-up view of four objects: the Horseman, Battle Plaque, Double Gong, and Oba Dominating Leopards. Users can investigate these works in detail—zooming in on helmets, leopards, tunics, and swords—to gain insight to their symbolism in the culture of the Benin Kingdom.
The renovation of this gallery was made possible with support from the Robert Lehman Foundation and the Vance Wall Foundation.