Benin Bronze Sculpture - PF.5098
Origin: Southcentral Nigeria
Circa: 1500 AD to 1897 AD
Dimensions: 14.75" (37.5cm) high
Catalogue: V27
Collection: African
Style: Benin
Medium: Bronze
Additional Information:
Thermoluminescence Tested by the
UCLA Institute of Geophysics


Benin art is royal art, intended to promote the mystique of the Oba (king), and to glorify his ancestors. This extraordinary crown is rich in symbolism, all of which indicate one central theme: power. Standing on the base is a somewhat corpulent figure dressed as a bird; the head having a long beak and crest similar to a cock. Finely delineated feathers of the wings extend beyond the body on either side, and at the middle below the buttocks. The feet or claws are also those of a rooster. The figure holds a shield in his left hand and a snake-like staff in the right. At the warrior's feet is a severed head wearing a peaked cap. Birds are important in Benin iconography, the cock most often associated with the queen mother. However, in this case the cock is symbol of masculinity, fertility and dominance over rivals. The base is dominated by a face with features in high relief. This is most likely a representation of a great ancestor, or a powerful deity. From the nostrils two snakes emerge. It is believed those who are magically powerful issue snakes from the nostrils when setting out to destroy their enemies. (Ben-Amos 1980). Pythons were considered the messengers of the spiritually powerful, i.e. the Oba. More snakes crawl around the back, underneath large swords towards a small human head suspended just below the rim. The sum total of the imagery combines two worlds--the physical prowess of a great warrior/king conquering his enemies, standing proudly as master also of the spiritual world from which he draws his strength. - (PF.5098)



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