CHRISTRAUD GEARY: Now if you look at the Portuguese soldier, there are certain details that I don’t want you to miss. One is that everything is articulated in the greatest detail. Look at his hands, they’re beautifully done, and look at the fact that you can see his fingernails, even. Look at his feet, same thing, they’re beautifully executed.
I also want you to look at the face because they were perfectly able to represent a European face, a face of a white person. And one of the things we see in all of the other depictions is that mostly there’s a very prominent nose, and that’s one of the characteristics that Benin people find interesting in the Portuguese that arrived on their shores and that arrived in the Benin kingdom.
One of the things that I find really interesting is the way the armor has been depicted. So he has a musket, which is very interestingly done, it’s very much as to what it would have looked like in the sixteenth century. He has daggers, he has other weapons, he has the armor, and you can even see that he has a cod-piece, which was very typical in the Renaissance time of Europe. So every detail has been rendered.
What I find so amazing is that it has such a dynamic stance, it seems to move, it’s really moving forward, which is very different from most of the African sculptures that you see here in the African galleries. And what I found even more amazing is the intricacies of depicting a Portuguese, so it’s—every detail is there. You see the armor, you see the helmet, you see the musket that he’s holding - he’s holding a matchlock musket – you see that the body, everything is fully decorated, and it attests to the way that artists in Benin were able to depict foreigners.