Thumbnail-size images of copyrighted artworks are displayed under fair use, in accordance with guidelines recommended by the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts, published by the College Art Association in February 2015.
Relief plaque showing a painted youth
Edo peoples, Benin kingdom, Nigeria
Height x width: 16 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. (41.9 x 19.1 cm)
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. A young man stands in the center, nude except for his rich jewelry and detailed body painting. The high, coral-beaded necklaces, beaded anklets and metal bracelets on his arms convey the young man’s elite status. On his stomach and above his eyebrows, scarifications mark the young man as a subject of the Oba. Scholars disagree about the identification of this young man. Many say that he is Crown Prince Odogbo (reigned about 1606 to about 1640), son of Oba Ehengbuda (reigned about 1578 to 1608). Odogbo was rumored to have been born a girl, and so Oba Ehengbuda asked his son and other young men of his son’s age to parade nude through the streets of Benin City in order to prove that Odogbo was indeed a young man and eligible to assume the throne. To these scholars, the presence of a high-ranking nude young man as a subject of a plaque seems to illustrate Odogbo’s history. Other scholars date the plaque corpus to the mid-16th century on the basis of the artists’ technical and stylistic decisions in the corpus as a whole, and according to this theory the person depicted could not be the 17th century Oba.
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 and kept by the Crown Agent of the Niger Coast Protectorate, London; March 24, 1898, sold by the Crown Agent of the Niger Coast Protectorate for £ 5 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