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Relief plaque showing three officials
Edo peoples, Benin kingdom, Nigeria
Length x width: 48.3 x 38.1 cm (19 x 15 in.)
Medium or Technique
Benin Kingdom Gallery (Gallery 172)
The three men on 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, are wearing leopard-tooth necklaces and warrior’s bells tied around their chests. The bells suspended from their waists would make a fearsome noise on the battlefield. As protection against arrows and sword thrusts, each wears a leather jerkin decorated with a leopard’s face, The leopard motif ties the warriors to the Oba, who was often metaphorically compared to a leopard. The two men on the left are wearing crowns with protruding feathers. One holds a circular box, called an ekpokin, that was used to bring tribute payments to the Oba or gifts from the Oba to his courtiers. These men, with the crowns, are of lower rank than the figure on the right wearing a helmet. The figure on the right is wearing a much more elaborate necklace of coral beads, called an odigba, a gift from the Oba to high-ranking courtiers.
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. March 7, 1898, sale, J. C. Stevens Auction Rooms, London, lot 225, sold for £ 17.17 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