- Museum number
- Series: Benin Plaques
Relief plaque, lost-wax cast in brass. Wide plaque, rectangular in form with side flanges. Background surface decorated with river leaf patterns and stippling. Two European (Portuguese) figures, heads and torsos in profile, at top. Both have long hair, helmets with three bosses and feathers, and wear long-sleeved tunics. Figure on left holds manilla, figure on right holds unidentified object to mouth. Nail hole at top centre and two holes at bottom left and right.
Depicts seated Oba, facing front, flanked by two kneeling supporters, enobore, facing inwards. Holds hammer in right hand. Oba wears cylindrical beaded crown with oro protrusion and three ornamental beads, deep beaded collar, beaded tunic, waist pendants in form of human heads and patterned skirt. Attendants similarly dressed: deep beaded collars, cylindrical headdresses with oro protrusion, long beaded tunics, waist pendants in form of crocodile heads and patterned skirts.
- Production date
Height: 43.50 centimetres
Weight: 14.12 kilograms
Width: 41 centimetres
Depth: 10.70 centimetres
- Curator's comments
The relief brass plaques that used to decorate the Oba's (king's) palace are among the most well-known of all the royal arts of Benin. Although frequently described as 'Benin Bronzes' most plaques are made of leaded brass in various compositions. It is widely accepted that they date to the 16th-17th centuries.
In the years prior to the British Expedition royal influence in Benin was increasingly under threat from rival powers, both internal and external, with a focus on economic power and control of the important trading monopolies. However, the court and palace remained the political and spiritual centre of the Benin Kingdom. Earlier accounts written by Europeans visiting the city describe its size and scale. The palace complex was set up around atrium courtyards; some had galleries with wooden pillars supporting the roof. Brass plaques, probably made in matching pairs, were fixed to these pillars.
The Benin brass plaques represent a distinct and unique corpus of work, unparalleled elsewhere on the continent. They are cast using the cire perdue (lost wax) technique and show significant variation in the depth of the relief. Some of the plaques portray historical events or commemorate successful wars, while others are a vivid depiction of Benin court life and ritual. Several groups of plaques show clear stylistic similarities. William B. Fagg suggested that these plaques represent the work of master brass casters.
Fagg, William, 1973, 'Nigerian Images', London: Lund Humphries
Gunsch, Kathryn, 2018, 'Benin plaques: a 16th century imperial monument', London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group
Triad plaques depicting the Oba flanked by two assistants (Enobore) are a key image of the hierarchical nature of royal power and authority in Benin art. They refer to the king's need for the support of his people to enable him to perform his duties.
Four other plaques with this triad composition (Oba seated with enobore kneeling on either side of him) are known: BM Af1898,0115.34; Pitt Rivers Museum 1907.66.1; National Museum Lagos 50.45.1 (previously BM 1898,0115.24); National Museum Lagos 50.30.9 (previously BM 1898,0115.25). More usually, the Oba and enobore face towards the front and are standing.
Part of Processional Pillar Set 7. Row 2A. Oba as mystical being holding metal-working hammer possibly referring to his role in manufacture of his father's commemorative head (Gunsch 2018).
Curnow (1997) proposes that this plaque represents the Oba during the Ague ceremony flanked by chiefs Osa and Osuan.
Read & Dalton 1899:
Group of three figures, the king in the centre seated on a cylindrical stool, with an attendant kneeling on either side. The king is dressed in a close-fitting garment with tight sleeves, the whole of which is closely covered with cylindrical beads, and to the bottom of which small human masks edged with bells are attached. In his right hand he holds up an axe. He wears a loin-cloth in the shape of a skirt with a plaited border, the broad bead-work collar and anklets, and a cap with a tall spike, also covered with beads, and ornamented in the front with larger cylindrical beads. From its lower edge hang bead-work pendants. The kneeling figures are dressed very like the king, except that their garments and helmets have horizontal bands, while the masks are, in their case, those of crocodiles. On either side of the head of the king is a bust in relief of a long-haired European with a feather in his hat. One has a Manilla in the right hand, the other holds a globular object, possibly a flask or bottle, to his mouth.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1970-1973, London, Museum of Mankind, Divine Kingship in Africa
2010-2011, London, BM/BBC, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2014 23 Apr-01 Aug, Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2014-2015 13 Dec-15 Mar, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2015 18 Apr–28 Jun, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2015 14 Jul–6 Sep, Kyushu National Museum, Dazaifu, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2015-2016 20 Sep-11 Jan, Kobe City Museum, Kobe, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2016 13 Feb-18 Jun, National Museum of Western Australia, Perth, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2016-2017 08 Sep-29 Jan, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2017 1 Mar-31 May, National Museum of China, Beijing, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2019 15 May-9 Sep, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2017 28 Jun-08 Oct, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2018 19 Apr-22 Jul, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2019 15 May-9 Sept, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
- Fair; missing top corners; missing flange at left side. Bottom edge missing. Small hole through septum.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Following the British occupation of Benin City (Edo) in 1897 objects made of brass, ivory and wood were looted by British forces 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.
The British Museum successfully petitioned the government to secure some of the relief plaques and over 300 were sent to the UK by the Consul-General [Sir] Ralph Moor and placed at the Foreign Office. During the summer of 1897 the Crown Agents for the Colonies, on behalf of the Foreign Office, agreed a temporary loan of 304 plaques to the British Museum. In September these were placed on public display in the Assyrian basement where they attracted considerable public attention. The Museum initially received 203 of these plaques as a gift from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. In the summer of 1898 a further eleven plaques were sent to the British Museum from the Foreign Office and three of these were selected by the Museum and were subsequently presented as a gift. Of the remaining plaques the Foreign Office retained eight and the rest were offered for sale to major museums, collectors and private dealers in Europe and the UK. Today over nine hundred plaques are known to exist in museums and private collections around the world.
See Collection File: Af1898,0115.1-203 (previously Eth.Doc.185).
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Previous owner/ex-collection number: 215 (Foreign Office number)