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Relief plaque showing a warrior
Edo peoples, Benin kingdom, Nigeria
Height x width: 16 x 6 3/4 in. (40.6 x 17.1 cm)
Medium or Technique
Benin Kingdom Gallery (Gallery 172)
A high-ranking warrior, his hand on the hilt of his sword, stands in the middle of this bronze plaque, part of a set of more than 800 that once decorated the pillars in the audience hall of the Oba, or king, of Benin. His helmet and the leather jerkin provide physical protection, while the warrior’s bell tied around his chest is a marker of spiritual protection. The leopard face on his jerkin and the leopard-tooth necklace connect the warrior to the service of the Oba, who is often compared to a leopard. His high coral-beaded collar, called an odigba, is a gift from the Oba to important courtiers. The rich, layered textiles of his wrapper also signal the man’s high rank. Half of the plaques made for the audience hall were narrow, like this one, and nearly all of the narrow plaques measure 19 centimeters wide. The floral decorations surrounding the figure are typical of this period of plaque production, but the way they are cut off on the left side is unusual. It is possible that the brass caster who formed the wax model for this plaque had to cut through the left side after he finished in order to ensure that the plaque fit the standard 19-centimeter dimension.
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