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Relief plaque showing two warriors
Edo peoples, Benin kingdom, Nigeria
Length x width: 47 x 30.5 cm (18 1/2 x 12 in.)
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. The two men on this plaque are wearing warrior’s gear, including leopard-tooth necklaces, bells attached to their chests with a length of rope, and bells hanging from their waists to make a racket when approaching the enemy. The crowns with projecting feathers are distinctive, and likely connect these men to a particular militia. The MFA collection includes other plaques depicting the same figures. The leather jerkins the men wear offer some protection from arrows and sword blows, while the leopard face decoration signals their allegiance to the Oba, who is often compared to a leopard. The circular box held by one of the men is a special kind of container, called an ekpokin, that is used to bring tribute payments to the Oba from his subjects, or to bring gifts from the Oba to a member of the court. The box is made of leopard-skin, which has a distinctive pattern, a further clue that the contents of the box are associated with the palace.
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, probably taken from the Royal Palace during the British military occupation of Benin. J.J. Klejman (dealer; b. 1906 – d. 1995), New York; sold by Klejman to Robert Owen Lehman, Rochester, NY; 2012, promised gift of Robert Owen Lehman to the MFA.
Robert Owen Lehman Collection