H x W x D: 46.7 x 33 x 5.1 cm (18 3/8 x 13 x 2 in.)
Mid-16th to 17th century
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, and the British military's Punitive Expedition of 1897 found them in a palace storehouse.
Today, over nine hundred plaques are in public and private collections, but there is no documentation explaining how they were arranged on the palace walls. Allowing for damage, they are relatively uniform in size and shape. While some plaques show scenes, such as battles and hunts, and others hierarchical multiple figures, many have one or two male figures in court regalia. They depict members of the royal court in the proper trappings for different ceremonies.
Like chiefs in Benin City today, this chief raises an eben, a fanlike ceremonial sword, in a gesture of respect. He wears an elaborate tunic trimmed with rattles. On his left hip are a bell and a pendant in the form of a face, the emblem of a chief.
Cast copper alloy plaque witha standing male figure with an eben, a leaf blade ceremonial sword, in his upraised proper right hand, wearing a tunic with projecting cylindrical forms (rattles?) and a leopard's teeth collar. Two raised rosettes flank the figure in the lower corners. The plaque has side flanges, with the upper portion above the figure missing.
Benin Punitive Expedition, 1897
Mrs. D.H. Walker, 1967
Joseph H. Hirshhorn, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1967 to 1979
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1979 to 1985
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
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
Freyer, Bryna. 1987. Royal Benin Art in the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, no. 15.
Moffett, Dana and Stephen P. Mellor. 2003. The Curator-Conservator Collaboration: Remembering Roy Sieber." African Arts 36 (2), pp. 46-47, no. 5.
Sotheby and Co. 1967. Auction catalogue (November 20). London.