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HOME : Decorative Arts : African Sculptures : Benin Style Bronze Plaque
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Benin Style Bronze Plaque - PF.6255
Origin: Nigeria
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 12.25" (31.1cm) high
Collection: African
Medium: Bronze

Location: United States
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The art of Benin is the product of an urban royal court, and is meant to symbolize and to extol the power, mystique, grandeur, continuity, and endurance of the ruling dynasty. Benin was controlled by the Oba, a divine ruler at the head of the political system. As the office of the Oba became increasingly ceremonial, the art produced evolved into an instrument of the state. Perhaps this politicized phenomenon of the arts is no better embodied than in the bronze plaques that once decorated the Oba’s palace. These plaques depicted scenes of court life as well as other ceremonial and symbolic events. However, much more than mere decoration, these sculpted tiles recorded the history and traditions of the Benin kingdom where the lack of a written language could not. Only a select number of plaques were displayed at any one time; the rest were stored in a special chamber of the palace presided over by an appointed expert who was in charge of interpreting and arranging the plaques. When disputes broke out at the court, they were often settled by consulting the plaques, for no one could argue with the will of the ancestors as represented by these bronze works. When the city of Benin was ransacked by the British punitive expedition in 1897, the soldiers brought the majority of the plaques back to London as booty. There, the Western world discovered the amazing artistry and technical sophistication of these relief sculptures. Today, these works are appreciated the world over and have became the most sought after works of African art. While authentic pieces rarely come up on the market (and normally fetch six figures when they do), this bronze plaque depicting an Oba riding a donkey flanked by two soldiers is a charming replica that offers all the beauty and majesty of the originals, if not the history. - (PF.6255)


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