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Relief plaque showing a war chief and two attendants
Edo peoples, Benin kingdom, Nigeria
Length x width: 48.3 x 40 cm (19 x 15 3/4 in.)
Medium or Technique
Benin Kingdom Gallery (Gallery 172)
This bronze plaque presents a high-ranking courtier in procession. He stands in the shade of two shields held aloft by his supporters. The 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. The figures are depicted in hierarchal scale, where the most important people are larger than lower-ranking members of the scene. The large central figure wears elements of a warrior’s costume, included a leopard-tooth necklace, a warrior’s bell tied around his chest, and a leather jerkin to protect his torso. Although the main figure carries a sword—notice the hilt under his left arm—he is likely not setting off for battle. Instead, one of the members of his retinue, to the left of the main figure, carries a ceremonial sword called an eben that is used to perform for the Oba. Senior courtiers process into the Oba’s audience hall with a large retinue, and this sort of procession seems to be the subject of this plaque. In the upper left and right corners, two Portuguese busts are holding either staffs or rifles. Portuguese mercenaries fought for Benin in a 1517 war, and their inclusion on this plaque emphasizes the military prowess of this Benin courtier.
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 passed by descent to Paul Rose, England; May 20, 1964, Rose and others sale, Sotheby’s, London, lot 113, to Robert Owen Lehman, Rochester, NY; 2012, promised gift of Robert Owen Lehman to the MFA.
Robert Owen Lehman Collection