- Museum number
- Series: Benin Ivory
Arm-cuff; made of elephant ivory. Cylindrical in form with figures carved around entire surface. Depicts horsemen in European clothing, standing European figures, and seated leopards in between.
- Production date
- Curator's comments
This Portuguese horseman design was apparently a widely-used motif for chiefs’ armlets in Benin art. There are examples that have seen so much use that they have worn thin, with large cracks and nearly obliterated surface motifs. Their fragile condition indicates that this established pattern has been employed for some time. During the middle of the 17th century, the diminishing influence of the Oba coincided with increased supplies of elephant tusks. By the 1700s, large numbers of ivory armlets were being produced in the Portuguese horseman set of motifs as well as in other designs, indicating that earlier ownership restrictions of this luxurious material had been relaxed. Between 1816 and 1820, Portuguese horseman images were also adopted for use on ancestral ivories (Blackmun 1994). Armlets featuring this design continued to be produced throughout the 19th century, and some Portuguese horseman examples show very little use, including a few carved in the late 20th century for export.
In one favored interpretation by today’s carvers (Chief David Omoregie, now the Ine of the Igbesanmwan, personal communication, November 24th, 1981), this motif is reminiscent of the 16th century Oba Esigie. Foreign soldiers are shown stalking the deceitful ‘ahianmwen’oro Bird of Prophecy, while the Oba in the guise of a leopard watches from a branch above (Ikpemwosa Osemwengie, personal communication, May 1982). In another equally valid interpretation, the horseman represents Esigie himself. This version is based upon his Portuguese education, his preference for European clothing, and the horse that was sent as a gift from the Portuguese king. The leopard is regarded as an emblem that signifies Esigie’s kingship.
Many armlet designs are carved with nearly identical images on each side of the cylinder, oriented in opposite directions. In regard to this motif, the horseman often appears upside down in relation to a standing foreign figure on the other side. The reversal ensures that the armlet can be placed in either direction without either pattern receiving more than half of the abrasion caused by normal wear.
Associated roll out impression of this ivory arm-cuff in plaster is in Museum collection: Af,CRS.53.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
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
- Acquisition date
- 18 June 1897
- Acquisition notes
- During the British expedition to Benin City (Edo) in 1897 objects made of brass, bronze, 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 in West Africa. However, many were brought to the UK where they were retained by soldiers of the expedition and subsequently inherited by thier families; put up for auction; or donated, lent, or sold to museums.
See Collection File: Af1897,-.498-563.
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
CDMS number: Af1897C3.516 (old CDMS no.)