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9.7: Benin Kingdom (1100 – 1897)

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  • Benin art is from the Kingdom of Benin, art, including cutting-edge creations of bronze work, carved ivory, and wood, demonstrating their advanced achievements. The full complexity of the royal arts in the kingdom centered on the divine god of Oba, who initiated contact with the supernatural and ancestors. The materials used by the artists were presented with sacred powers, forging a relationship between the materials and the art.

    An oral tradition carried stories from one generation to the next, using art to help describe the traditions and provide a visual reference. The bronze plaque of two Benin Warriors (9.28), with ceremonial swords from the 18th century, was created by the brass crafters guilds (igun eronmwon) who were honored for their extreme talent and innovation with bronze. Using the lost wax method produced an exact copy of the original clay work, the clay is carefully covered with a thin coating of wax and then placed into a mold. The wax melted out when the hot bronze (9.29) pours into the mold, creating a replica. The head of the Oba (9.30) was made for by the new king to honor his father, the bronze image becoming an object of worship.

     Benin warriors
    9.28 Benin warriors
     Liquid bronze
    9.29 Liquid bronze
    Ancestral head of an Oba
    9.30 Ancestral head of an Oba

    The spiritual deity Oba, who was the original creator of the Benin society, controlled the production of ideology art, an essential part of the process by the palace craftsmen who were led by Oba. The Benin also carved large pieces of ivory into delicate pendants worn by the king on special occasions and ceremonies. The pendant (9.31) shown here is the mother of the king, Iyoba, and a person of significant power. Unfortunately, much of Benin art was confiscated by the British when they invaded and can now only be seen in European museums.

    Pendant mask, lyoba
    9.31 Pendant mask, lyoba
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