Relief plaque showing a battle scene
Edo peoples, Benin kingdom, Nigeria
Length x width: 47 x 40 cm (18 1/2 x 15 3/4 in.)
Medium or Technique
Benin Kingdom Gallery (Gallery 172)
This dynamic piece is one of six complex plaques that show Benin warriors in action. It may depict a scene from the Idah war (about 1515 to 1517), waged between Benin and the neighboring Idah kingdom. A Benin war chief pulls an enemy from his horse and prepares to behead him. Recognizably foreign from the scarifications on his cheek, the enemy has already been pierced by a lance. The two are depicted in profile, while other figures appear frontally: two smaller enemies (one hovers above the action, the other holds the horse) and three Benin warriors—one with a shield and spear and two junior soldiers playing a flute and a side-blown ivory trumpet. This plaque is part of a set of more than 800 that once decorated the pillars in the audience hall of the Oba, or king, of Benin.
16th century, commissioned by Oba Esigie (r. 1517-1550s) or his son Oba Orhogbua (r. 1550s-1570s), Royal Palace, Benin City; by descent to Oba Ovonramwen (Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, b. about 1857 – d. about 1914; r. 1888 - 1897); 1897, taken from the Royal Palace during the British military occupation of Benin by Norman Burrows, Mellor Hall, Derbyshire; May 19, 1898, sold for £ 32 by Norman Burrows 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.
Robert Owen Lehman Collection