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Relief plaque showing a battle scene

Edo peoples, Benin kingdom, Nigeria
c. 1530-1570
Artist Unidentified


Length x width: 47 x 40 cm (18 1/2 x 15 3/4 in.)

Accession Number

L-G 7.35.2012

Medium or Technique

Copper alloy

On View

Benin Kingdom Gallery (Gallery 172)


Africa and Oceania



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.

Credit Line

Robert Owen Lehman Collection