H x W x D: 45.6 x 35 x 8.9 cm (17 15/16 x 13 3/4 x 3 1/2 in.)
Mid-16th to 17th century
Plaques are individually modeled and cast. This plaque is virtually identical in subject and composition with the other multifigure plaque in this collection (85-19-18); details of decoration and figural proportions vary, however.
Musicians and a page holding a ceremonial sword (eben) flank a high-ranking warrior, possibly a war chief or the oba himself. The half figures depict Portuguese. Trade between Benin and Portugal increased the wealth and power of the oba and his court and provided the ingots that were recast into art such as this plaque. In the early 1600s, a Dutch report described the royal palace of the Benin court as having "beautiful and long square galleries . . . one larger than another resting on wooden pillars . . . covered with cast copper . . . pictures of their war exploits and battles." Later travelers' accounts did not mention the plaques; however, the British military punitive expedition found them in a palace storehouse in 1897.
Copper alloy plaque with large central figure with shield, spear, beaded headdress and high collar flanked by nude male holding ceremonial sword, musicians with gongs and side blown trumpet and low-relief half figures of Europeans in the upper background. An overall foliate design is incised in the background.
Benin Punitive Expedition, 1897
Augustus Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers, Farnham, Dorset, after 1897 to 1900
Pitt-Rivers estate, 1900
Private collection, New York, -- to 1982
Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa's Arts, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 4, 2017-ongoing
Chief S.O. Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., September 17, 2014-July 31, 2016
BENIN-Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria, Museum für Völkerkunde, Wien, May 9-September 3, 2007; Musée du quai Branly, Paris, October 2, 2007-January 6, 2008; Ethnologisches Museum-Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, February 7-May 25, 2008; The Art Institute of Chicago, June 27-September 21, 2008
BIG/small, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., January 17-July 23, 2006
North Carolina Museum of Art Permanent Collections: Africa and New World Gallery, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, February 27, 2000-May 31, 2001
Rings: Five Passions in World Art, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, July 4-September 29, 1996
The Ancient West African City of Benin, A.D. 1300-1897, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., September 28, 1987-June 1, 2004
Icons: Ideals and Power in the Art of Africa, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., October 25, 1989-September 3, 1990
History, Context, Materials: Selections from the Permanent Collection of the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 12, 1985-January 5, 1986
Brown, J. Carter (ed). 1996. Rings: Five Passions in World Art. New York: Harry Abrams; Atlanta: High Museum of Art, pp. 230-231.
Cole, Herbert M. 1989. Icons: Ideals and Power in the Art of Africa. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, p. 44, no. 48.
Freyer, Bryna. 1987. Royal Benin Art in the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, p. 50.
Kirkham, Pat and Susan Weber (eds). 2013. History of Design: Decorative Arts and Material Culture, 1400-2000. New York: Bard Graduate Center; New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 77, no. 4.14.
Kreamer, Christine, Mary Nooter Roberts, Elizabeth Harney and Allyson Purpura. 2007. Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution; Milan: 5 Continents Editions, p. 31, no. 2.3.
Levenson, Jay A. (ed). 2007. Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th & 17th Centuries. Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, pp. 162-163, no. A-16.
Moffett, Dana and Stephen P. Mellor. 2003. The Curator-Conservator Collaboration: Remembering Roy Sieber." African Arts 36 (2), pp. 46-47, no. 6 (detail).
Park, Edwards. 1983. Treasures of the Smithsonian. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, p. 394.
Pitt-Rivers, Augustus.  1976. Antique Works of Art from Benin. [London] New York: Dover, p. 1, no. 4.
Schrenk, J. L. 1994. The Royal Art of Benin: Surfaces, Past and Present. Ancient and Historic Metals. Proceedings of a symposium organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum and Getty Conservation Institute, November 1991. Ed. D. A. Scott, J. Podany and B. Considine. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Trust.
Screnk, Janet L. 1991. Corrosion and Past "Protective" Treatments of the Benin "Bronzes" in the National Museum of African Art. Materials Research Society. Material Research Society Symposium Proceedings, Vol. 185. p. 808, no. 1c, 4.