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Relief plaque showing two officials with raised swords

Edo peoples, Benin kingdom, Nigeria
c. 1530-1570
Artist Unidentified


Dimensions

Length x width: 43.2 x 31.8 cm (17 x 12 1/2 in.)

Accession Number

2018.223

Medium or Technique

Copper alloy

On View

Benin Kingdom Gallery (Gallery 172)

Collections

Africa and Oceania

Classifications

Plaques

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—depicts two senior courtiers with ceremonial swords (eben) held aloft. These swords were used in special celebrations at court, when high-ranking men would send them twirling into the air, catching them before they fell to the ground. The figures on this plaque are wearing a wealth of coral beads, seen in their crowns, high necklaces (odigba), baldrics, and anklets. All coral belonged to the Oba, and was given to courtiers to wear through his authority. The leopard-face ornaments cinching the men’s wrappers, on each man’s left hip, are also a way of pointing to the Oba’s power; the Oba was often metaphorically compared to a leopard, a fast, powerful, and stealthy animal.

Provenance

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 £ 7 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; 2018, gift of Robert Owen Lehman to the MFA. (Accession Date: June 19, 2018)

NOTE:
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.

Credit Line

Robert Owen Lehman Collection