Bronze Sculpture

Art of Benin, Nigeria

The Benin Empire dates back to prehistoric times, the political systems that were monarchial, were well established before the fourteenth century. The Rulers of Benin and Yoruba had close ties, and by the fifteenth century Benin became and important power in the region.

With the backing of the monarchy selected artists of Benin developed a special style of sculpture vastly different from the rest of the region. They produced many fine bronze and or brass heads, figurines, brass plaques, and large rectangular metal pictures, which were used to decorate the Oba's palace.

The Benin Empire soon became the largest of the political systems of the Guinea Coast and toward the middle of the sixteenth century; the Oba ruled an area, which spread from modern Lagos to the Niger Delta.

Back in the late 19th century when the British forces invaded Benin City, they were overwhelmed to find artistic sculptures cast in brass/bronze. They could not believe the technological sophistication and exquisite beauty and quality of these objects. What they saw was a total contradiction to what many westerners believed or assumed about Africa. The above was too much for the British forces to bear and they swiftly concocted excuses - "The sculptures must have been made by the Portuguese, the Egyptians, or the lost tribes of Israel"

The so-called "Portuguese, Egyptian or Israeli" sculptures eventually found their way to Britain and later to other parts of Europe, where it was first classified as Benin bronze sculpture, despite it being largely of brass.

Since then archeological, historical, scientific and anthropological studies clearly indicates that the people of Benin, was at that time an advance culture. Benin brass/bronze sculptures are now classified as Early, Middle and Late Century. (The latter implying of lesser quality) Further proof of the complex societies and advanced African cultures can found by clicking here (Mapungubwe - South Africa)

The bronze head of the Queen mother: The Benin King or Oba - Esigie first introduced the title to honor his mother Idia. Queen mothers had a special link with the cockerel: the heads functioned as a means of contact with the divine SAL_2239.jpg (94157 bytes)realm. The king (Oba) was associated with the leopard these types of sculptures appeared on altars in the queen mothers palace at Uselu just outside the Capital of Benin.

Many of these old sculptures, have become famous throughout the world. One example of these is the symbol used for FESTAC '77, a Benin Bronze Head a true masterpiece and of the highest quality. It is a great pity that present and future generations of Nigeria must fly to London to see this remarkable symbol.

Also read

bulletTikar bronze the lost wax process
bulletBronze sculpture catalog
bulletRepublic of Benin Fact sheet
bulletRepublic of Nigeria Fact sheet
bulletMap of Africa








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