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Pendant showing an Oba (King) and two dignitaries
Edo peoples, Benin kingdom, Nigeria
17th–early 18th century
Length x width: 19.7 x 13.3 cm (7 3/4 x 5 1/4 in.)
Medium or Technique
Gilded copper alloy
Benin Kingdom Gallery (Gallery 172)
This pendant shows an Oba supported by two special officials, called enobore, who appear with the king in public. Mudfish adorn his belt and the pendant’s upper corners. They identify the king symbolically with Olokun, the god of the waters, and signal the king’s own divine powers.
Benin bronzes were kept bright and shining in the palace, although they now appear dark and oiled in museum collections. This pendant was gilded at some point, however, and helps us imagine the appeal of the originally glowing bronze surface. We do not know where and by whom this piece was gilded, but it definitely happened after it left Benin. The technique used to apply the gold, mercury-gilding, is a European technique. Scholar Tim Garrard, when researching Akan brass casting, found a reference to a drunken Dutchman on the beach who was announcing his skills as a gilder and requesting objects to be gilt. He or a similar person was likely to be responsible for gilding the present pendant plaque.
By 1964, Jay C. Leff (b. 1925 - d. 2000), Uniontown, PA [see note]. By 1984, Mathias Komor (dealer; d. 1984), New York; sold by Komor to Robert Owen Lehman; 2012, promised gift of Robert Owen Lehman to the MFA.
NOTE: Included in the exhibition "African Sculpture from the Collection of Jay C. Leff" (Museum of Primitive Art, New York. November 25, 1964 – February 7, 1965), cat. no. 29.
Robert Owen Lehman Collection