- Museum number
Altar of the Hand (ikegobo); lost-wax cast in brass. Cylindrical in form with central figure of Oba (king) on top wearing beaded coral regalia and holding two downturned eben swords. Flanked by two kneeling chiefs, with leopard figures in front. Behind chiefs are two standing female figures. Altar has circular hole in top at back and square hole between kneeling chiefs at front. Central register on side of altar features large opposing figures of Oba and Queen Mother with various attendants between. Repeating motif of double maltese cross. Lower register depicts sacrifical animals: cow and leopard as well as human hands, rams' heads, mudfish and elephant head with hand.
- Production date
- 18thC (circa)
Height: 45 centimetres
Weight: 24.30 kilograms
Width: 34 centimetres
Depth: 32.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
A man who has led a successful and prosperous life can build a shrine to his hand to represent his individual achievements and wealth. Such shrines, or ikegobo, are carved out of wood; only royalty or occasionally favoured chiefs could commission a brass one. They consist of two parts: a rectangular or semi-circular base with a frieze of sacrificial animals, and on top of this a cylindrical form with a figure of a successful warrior chief. The image of the hand is represented as a pair of upraised hands in a gesture of holding wealth.
Read & Dalton 1899:
Cylindrical pedestal, with a group of figures in the round upon the top, consisting of a king ? with four attendants and two leopards. Round the sides the design is divided into two zones, the upper consisting of two principal figures and twelve attendants, the lower of a number of figures of animals and symbolic ornaments. On the top stands the king, wearing a cap of bead network, with spike and bunches of beads (?), high bead collar, cross-belts of beads, with large bead (?) at their point of intersection, and ornamented loin-cloth with bead girdle. He holds in each hand a ceremonial knife, with the points on the ground, one on each side of a square aperture. His arms are supported by two kneeling attendants, naked to the waist, behind whom stand two women with crested caps and loin-cloths of network. The two leopards stand one on each side of the square hole, and between them is what appears to be a polished stone axe-head (Af,1898.0115.46).
Behind the king is an oval hole, and on each side of the group a crocodile in low relief. The whole is surrounded by a broad border formed of a continuous S-coil. On the side of the pedestal the position, wearing a beadwork cap, and otherwise similar to the king. Represented above. In his right hand he holds a rattle like that shown in Af1898,0630.4and in his left a representation of a polished stone axe. His arms are supported by two diminutive attendants, beyond whom stand two others with hemispherical head-dresses, each holding over the king’s head a shield with ornament in relief. Beyond these are two others holding wands, and beyond these again two elaborately-dressed persons, each of whom wears a Maltese pectoral cross, and holds in one hand a staff, in the other an axe-like object (Cf Af1898,0115.23).
At the back is a figure of a woman. She holds an ill-defined object in her hand. On each side of her is a small naked female with a load on her head, and beyond these are two female attendants holding fans and dressed like those in the group at the top of the pedestal. The ground is diapered with quatrefoils and leafy scrolls and has between the figures pairs of Maltese crosses in relief.
On the front of the lower zone is an ox-head, flanked by two human hands and two leopards. The symbols which are not visible in the reproduction are two human arms issuing from elephants’ heads. (Cf Fig. 8 on details image for Af,1224.1-3) an elephant’s head, a cow’s head (?) a box with a padlock, a deer’s head, a cat-fish and a globular bag like object with a tubular neck. The ground is similar to that of the border on the top.
This interesting object was presented to the British Museum by Sir William Ingram, Bart., in 1897 and appears to be of comparatively modern manufacture.
- On display (G25/dc6)
- Exhibition history
1970-1973, London, Museum of Mankind, Divine Kingship in Africa
2007 May-Sept, Vienna, Museum für Völkerkunde, Benin. Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria
2007-2008 Oct-Jan, Paris, Musée du quai Branly, Benin. Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria
2008 Feb-May, Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ethnologisches Museum, Benin. Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria
2008 Jun-Sept, Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Benin. Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria
- Good. Female figures on top are bent forwards.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- During the British Expedition to Benin City (Edo) in 1897 objects made of brass, ivory, coral and wood were looted by British soldiers from the royal palace, its storerooms and compounds.
Some of these objects were sold or exchanged on the coast. However, many were brought to the UK where they were sold through private auction, donated to museums, or retained by soldiers of the expedition.
This object was purchased by the donor at a Stevens auction on 24 August 1897. It was described in the catalogue as 'Large brass casting with five figures on top...', Lot 216. It previously formed part of the collection of Sir Arthur Vyell Vyvyan who served as Lieutenant on the British Expedition to Benin City.
See Collection File: Af1897,1011.1-6.
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number