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Catalog Data

Benin kingdom court style  Search this
Edo artist  Search this
Copper alloy
H x W x D: 28.9 x 18.4 x 19.4 cm (11 3/8 x 7 1/4 x 7 5/8 in.)
Mid-late 19th century
Label Text:
The motifs on this vessel refer to death and to the oba's exclusive right to take human life. The handle in the form of a python, the king of snakes, recalls the serpent sculptures that once adorned the roof turrets of the palace. The bodiless heads depict Ofoe, messenger of the god of death. The rough surface, the ill-fitting lid, and, inside, the unremoved casting core indicate that the vessel was never finished.
Cast copper alloy five footed vessel with hinged lid. The handle is in the form of a snake biting a man. The spout issues from the mouth of a male two tailed animal, possibly a leopard or a monkey. In relief on the sides of the vessel are heads with arms and legs representing Ofoe, messenger of the god of death. The knob of the lid is a seated male figure. The core remains insidethe vessel and remains of sprues are around the rim.
Benin Punitive Expedition, 1897
Augustus Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers, Farnham, Dorset, after 1897 to before 1900
Pitt-Rivers estate, 1900 to 1965
Sotheby and Co. auction, London, November 15, 1965
Joseph H. Hirshhorn, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1965 to 1966
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1966 to 1985
Exhibition History:
Artful Animals, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., July 1, 2009-July 25, 2010
IYARE!: Splendor and Tension in Benin's Palace Theater, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, November 1, 2008-February 28, 2009
Published References:
Freyer, Bryna. 1987. Royal Benin Art in the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, no. 6.
Pitt-Rivers, Augustus. [1900] 1976. Antique Works of Art from Benin. [London] New York: Dover, pl. 8, nos. 45-46.
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. 807, no. 1a.
snake  Search this
male  Search this
Credit Line:
Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn to the Smithsonian Institution in 1966
Object number:
Restrictions & Rights:
Usage conditions apply
See more items in:
National Museum of African Art Collection
Data Source:
National Museum of African Art