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Relief plaque showing a dignitary with drum and two attendants striking gongs
Edo peoples, Benin kingdom, Nigeria
Length x width: 43.2 x 27.9 cm (17 x 11 in.)
Medium or Technique
Benin Kingdom Gallery (Gallery 172)
This bronze 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. Three men play musical instruments in a procession through Benin City, the capital of the kingdom. In the center, a man wearing a leopard-tooth necklace and a warrior’s bell at his chest plays a drum. His leather jerkin, worn over the torso to protect from arrows and sword thrusts, further underscores his role as a warrior. On either side, two men wearing helmets play gongs. On all three figures, the bells hanging from their waists would provide additional sound as they moved. Benin artists sometimes used hierarchical scale, where the most important person is largest. Here, the central figure is largest, indicating that he is the highest-ranking person in the composition.
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. 1898, William Downing Webster (dealer; b. 1863 – d. 1913), London and Bicester, Oxfordshire, England; October 15, 1898, sold by W.D. Webster for £ 19 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