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Catalog Data

Benin kingdom court style  Search this
Edo artist  Search this
Copper alloy
H x W x D: 47 x 34.2 x 8.2 cm (18 1/2 x 13 7/16 x 3 1/4 in.)
Mid-16th to 17th century
Label Text:
Plaques are individually modeled and cast. This plaque is virtually identical in subject and composition with the other multifigure plaque in this collection (82-5-3); 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.
Cast copper alloy multiple figure plaque with large central figure with shield, spear, beaded headdress and high collar flanked by a nude male holding a ceremonial sword, musicians with gongs and side blown trumpet and low-relief half figures of Europeans in the upper background. Plaque has an overall foliate design incised in the background and side flanges.
Benin Punitive Expedition, 1897
H. Meyer, c.1919
Galerie (Henri) Kamer, Paris, 1968
Joseph H. Hirshhorn, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1968 to 1979
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1979 to 1985
Exhibition History:
Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa's Arts, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 4, 2017-ongoing
IYARE!: Splendor and Tension in Benin's Palace Theater, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, November 1, 2008-February 28, 2009
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
America's Smithsonian: Celebrating 150 Years, organized by The Smithsonian, Los Angeles Convention Center, February 9-March 10, 1996; Kansas City Convention Center, April 10-May 19, 1996; Rhode Island Convention Center, Providence, August 21-September 19, 1996; St. Paul Civic Center, October 16-November 14, 1996, Houston, Texas, December 6, 1996- January 28, 1997, Portland Oregon, April 3 - May 6, 1997, Birmingham, Alabama, May 29-July 9, 1997, San Jose, California, July 31- August 25,1997
The Stranger Among Us, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., March 24-September 7, 1982
Published References:
Curnow, Kathy. 2016. Iyare!: Splendor and Tension in Benin's Palace Theatre. Cleveland, OH: Kathy Curnow.
Eicher, Joanne B. and Doran H. Ross. 2010. Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: Africa (vol. 1). Oxford University Press, p. 25.
Freyer, Bryna. 1987. Royal Benin Art in the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, no. 18.
Robbins, Warren M. and Nancy I. Nooter. 1989. African Art in American Collections. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, p. 216, no. 556.
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.
Smithsonian Institution. 1996. America's Smithsonian: Celebrating 150 Years. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, p. 90.
foreigner  Search this
musical instrument  Search this
weapon  Search this
male  Search this
floral  Search this
Credit Line:
Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn to the Smithsonian Institution in 1979
Object number:
Restrictions & Rights:
See more items in:
National Museum of African Art Collection
Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa's Arts
On View:
NMAfA, Second Level Gallery (2193)
Data Source:
National Museum of African Art