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Mounted ruler (so-called Horseman)

Edo peoples, Benin kingdom, Nigeria
16th century
Artist Unidentified


Length x width: 45.7 x 27.9 cm (18 x 11 in.)

Accession Number

L-G 7.12.2012

Medium or Technique

Copper alloy

On View

Benin Kingdom Gallery (Gallery 172)


Africa and Oceania



This sculpture depicts a finely dressed warrior headed into battle. The elaborate feathered crown has a small basketry projection in the center, a regional symbol of high rank. The elaborate ruff and tunic decorated with cowrie shells also signal that this is no ordinary warrior. Yet his right hand is armed with a spear, and his left hand clutches arrows. Although some scholars once identified this figure as a king of Benin, others convincingly argue that he is a foreigner. This figure is possibly the king of the Idah, a neighboring state that attacked Benin in the early 1500s. The figure would have been placed on a commemorative altar for a deceased king, likely alluding to Benin’s decisive victory in this critical battle.


16th century, commissioned from the Igun Eronmwon, or royal brasscasters guild, by the Oba of Benin; by descent to Oba Ovonramwen (Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, b. about 1857 - d. about 1914; r. 1888 - 1897), Royal Palace, Benin City; 1897, taken from the Royal Palace during the British military occupation of Benin by Dr. Felix Norman Roth (b. 1857 – d. 1921); 1897, given by Roth to his brother, Henry Ling Roth (b. 1855 – d. 1925), Halifax, England; May 11, 1898, sold by Henry Ling Roth for £ 20 to Lt.-General Augustus Henry Pitt-Rivers (b. 1827 - d. 1900), Farnham, England; until the 1960s, kept at the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Farnham, and passed by descent within the family [see note]; 1970s, sold upon the dispersal of the collection. By 2011, Robert Owen Lehman, Rochester, NY; 2012, promised gift of Robert Owen Lehman to the MFA.

The collection of the privately-owned Pitt-Rivers museum passed by descent through Augustus Henry Pitt-Rivers’s son Alexander Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers to his grandson, Captain George Pitt-Rivers (1890-1966) and his common law wife, Stella Howson-Clive (Pitt-Rivers). The museum closed in the 1960s and the collection was sold.

Credit Line

Robert Owen Lehman Collection