- Museum number
- Series: Benin Plaques
Relief plaque, lost-wax cast in brass. Narrow plaque, rectangular in form without side flanges. Background surface decorated with river leaf patterns and stippling. Partial nail hole at bottom left.
Depicts two coiled mudfish, facing downwards, seen from above. Mudfish have large barbels, ringed eyes, dorsal fins, two gill rings, one pectoral fin, and forked tails. Heads decorated with single dot crosshatching, body with angled lines.
- Production date
- 16thC-17thC (circa)
Height: 43 centimetres
Weight: 3.10 kilograms
Width: 18 centimetres
Depth: 4 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
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1970-1973, London, Museum of Mankind, Divine Kingship in Africa
- Fair; missing sections at top right and left corners and siodes and top edge. Missing sections from bottom left corner and bottom right corner and side. Split through gill rings of upper fish.
- 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. Others seem to have circulated in the years after the Expedition within Nigeria and were subsequently acquired by British soldiers or colonial officials employed or resident there.
The donor of this plaque was employed by the Forestry Department, Benin Province, Southern Nigeria and was based in Benin City from 1903.
See Collection File: Af1908,1205.1-10.
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number